The all singing, all dancing blog of Alex Guite

Friday, August 31, 2007

Day 8: Glasgow to Fort William

Distance: 180.7km
Total: 1366.2km
Time: 7hrs 39mins
Average: 23.5kph
Maximum: 47.2kph

With a strong wind against me for the second day and some rain this had the potential to be another poor day. As it turned out I really enjoyed it, thanks mostly to a chance meeting on the A82 out of Glasgow.

I got cycling with a group of five firefighters on a sponsored 90 miles ride, the first 50 miles or so happened to be the route I was planning to take. So they let me join their group and with each of us taking turns cutting into the wind we made excellent pace up Loch Lomond. At the 80km mark I'd recorded an average speed of 26.5kph, which I was ecstatic with given the wind, my cummulative distance so far and the poor sleep I had in the hostel last night (noisy arrivals in the dorm at 01:00 then 03:00; not impressed).

The firefighters had two minibuses supporting them, so I was able to share their pasta lunch shortly before we split off our seperate ways. Riding together had raised both my average speed and my spirits.

Without the help of the group I found the wind tougher going as I climbed into the Grampians, but continued to make steady progress. The wind got worse as I approached the stunning Glencoe and sometimes I was out of my saddle in a low gear going downhill and barely doing much more than 20kph.

I've never been this far North before and I was impressed by the scenery. I just wish I could spend some more time to appreciate it all. Camera stopped working this afternoon so not many photos.

I'm staying in the Glen Nevis hostel about three miles out of Fort William. Very easy to find and in a very picturesque area. It has just started raining hard whilst I've been eating which doesn't look great for tommorrow.

[Just updated ride stats for Day 6]


Thursday, August 30, 2007

Day 7: Carlisle to Glasgow

Distance: 175.2km
Total: 1185.5km
Time: 8hrs 27mins
Average: 20.7kph
Maximum: 42.0kph

In contrast to yesterday, this really wasn't a great ride. Day started well by crossing into Scotland, but soon became clear that I'd be fighting a strong wind against me.

This was the most isolated of rides so far and the constant threat of rain probably didn't help my mood either. I cycled mostly along B roads running alongside the A74 (M) motorway. The first 80km or so were a gradual up hill to the head of the Clyde. Nothing too sharp, but constant climbing does get tiresome after a while.

I didn't really stop much for food, just ate and carried on as quickly as possible in case the weather turned on me. The roads were pretty rough with lots of potholes which didn't help my pace either.

Nonetheless, by pushing on I got within 40km of Glasgow by four o'clock, but it took almost another three hours to get to the hostel! Got lost several times, although could have been worse as was greatly helped by a Glasgow A-Z lent to me by Ken P.

Oh well, one good thing about today was that it didn't rain, despite the dark clouds.

I'm just relaxing now with food and a cheeky beer. Thanks for all your comments, has really helped me cheer up after this less than excellent day!


Day 6: Leylands to Carlisle

Update 31/08/07
Stats are
Distance: 167.4km
Total: 1010.3km
Time: 7hrs 35mins
Average: 22.0kph
Maximum: 54.6

No stats right now for this leg of the ride (they are in my room and I'm down in the internet cafe right now). Distance wise it was about 165km, certainly enough to take me over the magic 1000km mark.

This was an excellent ride. Gentle sun and although the wind was against me it wasn't too strong. From Preston into Lancaster the roads were very flat and I was able to spin along at a decent 25kph or so thanks to the generous food and rest the night before.

Tim texted me in the morning to tell me to look forward to the scenery beyond Lancaster and he was right. Cycling into Kendal for lunch was an awesome ride and although there was now a distinct upwards gradient I was still pushing a good pace.

After lunch I climbed the 18km up to the 1400 feet Shap fell. This was a climb I'd been looking forward to all day. It had been described to me by a cyclist in Warrington as a "long, steady climb". Was much more satisfying to climb than the relentless hill-ettes in Devon and Cornwall. Some good photos when I get back. Wish I could have spent a bit longer in that part of the country, but I had to push on.

The ride down to Penrith was good and almost all down hill. I cycled with another tourer, Mel, for a while who I met there. It turned out she was a professional demonstrator, which I should have guessed by the "No Oil" sign on the back of her bike. She was cycling back to Glasgow after doing "some environmental stuff" down South, including as it turned out the Climate Change Camp at Heathrow. Made for interesting conversation.

I made a stop for tea before Carlisle with some past neighbours of my Grandparents. It turns out I'd never met them before; the last time they'd seen my Dad was 1978 but they are still in touch with the Grandparents. They very kindly offered accomodation for the night, but with the aim of getting to Glasgow tommorrow I felt I should push on.

Hostel was pretty easy to find and I even had my own room. Overall a great ride


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Day 5: Dimmingsdale to Leylands

Distance: 137.5km
Total: 842.9km
Time: 6hrs 21mins
Average: 21.6kph
Maximum: 55.2kph

I'd billed this day as my rest day, assuming without using google pedometer, that this would be a 100km maximum ride. As it turned out it was almost 140km, but was certainly more of a rest than yesterday. I got up later (08:00) and arrived earlier.

Pace was slower today, feeling tired and had a strong wind against me to start with. Bought my average speed up in the afternoon as conditions improved and I made up for a small breakfast with a foot long sandwich from Subway.

Not optimal cylce route today, lots of cycling through urban areas and got caught in the rush hour around Wigan. Don't think I spend more than 15km on a single road, thus adding to the overall time with lots of navigation stops.

Staying at "Donna's Mum's" in Leylands. Excellent to have a good meal, a bath and a decent bed to sleep in. Which is where I'm going now.


Day 4: Welsh Bricknor (near Ross on Wye) to Dimmingsdale (near Cheadle)

Distance: 189.8km
Total: 705.5km
Time: 8hrs 35mins
Average: 22.0kph
Maximum: 54.3kph

I knew this was going to be a long ride, but sitting in the hostel afterwards, still with oil on my face (not really sure how it got there, but I'm finding I'm getting bike oil everywhere) I felt pretty good. It was very satisfying to make some good progress northwards (after several days of essentially cycling towards the north east) and was pretty flat. Couldn't have done the ride without that steak last night though.

Was awesome to see, and feel in my legs, the change in scenery along the route, from the flat roads around Ross up to the hillier Peak District. I took a route that avoided the Malverns and was averaging a decent 23.5kph until the last two hours when the wind turned towards me and I got into the hills around the Peaks. My attempt at a short cut to the hostel back fired, adding a good half hour to my overall time. Distance wise it was probably shorter, but I should have looked at the countour lines in more detail to see I'd be taking a particularly hilly route.

With about eight hours a day on the bike, you need some ways to pass the time somehow. One of the ways I've been doing this is by waving at other cyclists en route. A lot of racers and tourers wave at you anyway as a form of greeting between cyclists, but I've extended this to commuter cyclists as well. Most of them just seem plain baffled but I got a friendly salutation of some of them.

Legs are aching a bit and I can defintley feel when climbing that I don't have quite the pace I had at the start. More than anything my back and neck are aching at the end of the day, despite spending a far ammount of time on warming them up before the ride. Arms are also aching surprisingly, I think from compensating in turns for all the weight in my panniers.

Hostel was easy to find this time and very friendly. Met another cyclist who was on a tour up from Bath across to Nottingham, doing about 60 miles a day. Certainly a more sensible approach to touring.


Day 3: Quantock Hills to Welsh Bricknor

Distance: 174.5km
Total: 515.6km
Time: 7hrs 43mins
Average: 22.5kph
Maximum: 59.7kph

So much flatter today riding into Somerset, leaving the hills of Devon and Cornwall behind me. I won't be returning around there by bike for a while! The flatter ground is reflected in the higher average speed but lower maximum speed I recorded today.

Distance was longer than I expected and my legs are starting to feel tired, but once I get into a good rhythm am still able to cover some good ground.

Grateful to a racer I met on the way into Bristol ("Steve the cyclist") for his route advice and for showing me the way to the Clifton suspension bridge. His assertion that the Wye valley was as "flat as a pan" turned out to be excellently true.

Was supposed to meet my sister in Bristol for lunch, but surprisingly my parents turned up as well with a picnic. Although three days on your own isn't long, when you're cycling solo you're always greatful for some company. And some good food.

After lunch I used some more of Steve's advice to take me over the old Severn bridge, thus cycling over two iconic bridges in one day.

The youth hostel was difficult to find and required quite a bit of climbing out of the Wye valley. Again, this hostel is not great for anyone on a racer as both routes to it are along mud and gravel tracks.

Met Ben in the evening, who drove down to the hostel. We headed in to Monmouth and after finding somewhere still serving food at half eight on a Sunday evening, I sat down to a huge plate of steak and chips. Some drama later as Ben almost ran out of petrol. Many thanks to Ben for popping by to visit me!

(Ben made it home OK by the way).


Day 2: Titagel to Quantock Hills

Distance: 183.8km
Total: 341.1km
Time: 8hrs 14mins
Average: 22.2kph
Maximum: 70.6kph

Changed from my planned to route to take the A49 for most of the day to try and avoid the worst of the hills. Gradients were kinder in the most compared to yesterday, but the hills were still relentless and included a 1:4 hill to climb. In fact I even climbed above the clouds. Photographic evidence when I get back.

Roads in Devon were pretty messy and I got two punctures before lunch. Made a mistake and tried to press on too far before lunch. Ended up without water and very hungry down some country lane. Eventually got a pizza at half three in the afternoon after 110km of riding.

Youth hostel was pretty basic but with friendly staff at the top of a long track, not good for riding along with a race bike!

Recorded my top speed on this bike as well today. Got to 67kph and decided it would be silly not to try and pass the 70kph mark. Overall a satisfying ride, one of the longest single rides I've done.


Day 1: Land's End to Titagel

Distance: 157.3km
Total: 157.3km
Time: 7hrs 37mins
Average: 20.6kph
Maximum: 63.8kph

Very hilly day and no direct route. Tough going with the hills and quite disheartening to find progress so slow. Wasn't helped by the 30km round trip to Land's End this morning. Cheered up by the evening and the arrival at the hostel. Big meal of cous cous, sausages, tomatoes and eggs overlooking the setting sun.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Day 0: Train to Penzance

Just got back to the Youth Hostel after some pub food and a walk around Penzance harbour.

The five hour train journey from London was impressive: you don't need an anorak to see why its worth taking at least once. On several ocassions the track lies right next to the sea and a glance out of the window makes you think you're on a boat rather than a train. The scenery was stricking and as a sign of things to come, very hilly.

Good weather here; in fact from a rainy London it was sunny just beyond Reading. Not sure how long it'll last but choosing the wettest summer since 1927 [I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere, limited internet access means no diligent fact checking on, er, Wikipedia] means I'll probably get wet at some point.

Had an excellent send off from College today, a somewhat slower version of the Tour de France's Grand Depart. Thanks to Zoe, Ben, Tim, Pete, Iain, Simon, Andy, Adele and Matty for seeing me off. The balloons are still attached to my bike. Let's see if they make it up to Titagel.

I'm going to do my best to blog my way to John o'Groats as well as cycle there, with updates every evening provided I can on to the interweb. So check back to see how I'm getting on.

Total distance today was 17.5km, which included riding into College, on to the station and then finally up to the hostel.


I'm off!

It's twenty past nine and I'm about to leave to catch my train down to Penzance to start my Land's End to John o'Groats mega ride. Both nervous and excited. I've probably forgotten something, but my panniers are sufficiently heavy that I've probably got some things I won't need as well.

Updates will apear here in the evenings if I can get on the internet (a further requirement will be my ability to stay awake after a day of cycling).

Thanks to everyone who has sponsored me, already raised more than I hoped I ever could. Your support to Afasic really reminds me why I'm doing this.


Thursday, August 16, 2007

160 hours to go

One week to go before I set off by train for Land's End. I finished planning the Scottish part of the route last night, although I use the word planning in the loosest possible sense since there really isn't much choice of routes. Out of Glasgow along the A82, following it up to Fort William where I'll stay the night. Then another day on the A82 along Loch Ness and up to Tain for another night's sleep. And finally a day cycling up the A9 to John o'Groats. At least navigation will be easier as I spend two days on the A82.

I'll link to my route as soon as I've transfered it to a Google map. For the distance planning I exchanged the traditional length of string for gmaps-pedometer. I would link to the maps I created on there, but the only downside is there is no option to share as a read-only map. I'd recomend it to anyone planning along cycle ride and I suspect more accurate the trying to curve a piece of string around hairpin bends on a three-miles-to-the-inch map.

Back in February, when I pencilled the last week of August in to do this ride, I didn't realise that this would mean stradling the busiest bank holiday weekend of the year. I've booked a lot of my accomodation now (mostly youth hostels), but I just couldn't find anything available on the bank holiday Saturday. The best I was offered was £70 for a bed, breakfast not included. So I've decided to take a tent and jetison it on to my sister when I meet her on Sunday. It's extra weight, but much better than cycling through the night.

Zoe and I cycled 125km from Reading to Bath at the weekend, mostly along the A4. We averaged 24.5kph. Was pleasantly surprised, the road was wide enough that traffic was able to overtake fast but not close. May work some more A roads into my earlier routes as a result. The plan was to cycle back on Sunday, but still suffering from a bad throat at the tail end of a cold we decided to catch the train back instead.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Land's End to John O'Groats: trial run

Not much bloggage recently because there hasn't been much cycling to write about.

Replacing the broken spoke I got on the Dunwich Dynamo turned into replacing the entire wheel when more spokes broke whilst I was removing the gears. Rather than just replace all the broken spokes and worry that more might go on LEJoG, I figured it would be best just to replace the whole thing. It's done about 5000km, although I have to say I'm not very sure what a good wheel lifetime is.

Replacing replacing my rear wheel in turn meant changing my rear cassette since Shimano have adopted a new system in the last two years and I couldnt' simply swap my gears over. With new rear cogs on it seemed prudent to replace the chain in case it had streched. Whilst doing this and re-adjusting my gear cables I noticed that my bottom bracket was a bit loose. In the spirit of repairing stuff I got a new one and for good measure some new gear cables as well.

So one hundred and fifty quid down and a week and a bit of cycling lost, but my bike does feel a whole lot smoother now.

To make up for the lack of training I did a Land's End to John O'Groats in ales at "the biggest pub in the world" yesterday, the Great British Beer Festival. Starting in Southwest England I had a Blindman's Golden Spring, which wasn't as good as the name suggested. Forging up in to Wales I had probably one of the best ales I've had for a while, a Grog-y-Vog from the Vale of Glamorgan. After that I'm not very sure what I had, although I do remember the Scotish ale was particularly good. Photo evidence below. (It was hat day, hence, er, the hats).

Surprisingly only two people tried to "press" my hat.