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LAND’S END TO JOHN O’GROATS DIY to get the job done that same afternoon (some shops had said they could “probably” help, but had not confirmed all the specifics). I had lunch at the local “Toll Gate Café” while waiting for the taxi to collect me. We had decided on Nevis Cycles (a bike shop in Inverlochy, Fort William – at the foot of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain) to get the repair job done, after my support group had identified them as a stockist of my required bottom bracket. I had called to confirm they would definitely help with the task that same afternoon and the deal was sealed. I was connected (by the café, where I had lunch) to a local taxi company – and a friendly guy called Ruaridh (pronounced ‘Rury’) had shown up with an estate vehicle and conveyed me (and the bike) to Fort William. I had already been off the road for 3 hours when Ruaridh had arrived… Ruaridh was really helpful – and was also really interactive, when he needed to be. He had been an engaging ‘host’ and had kept my spirits up throughout the journey. I had slept in the car for much of the time – while we drove there and also during the bike repairs – but I had also used the visit to the bike shop as an opportunity to buy some wind-proof clothing for my final night of riding (knowing I could not face another episode of hypothermia). The windproof vest I got from Nevis Cycles had looked thin and flimsy, but I was assured it would do the job. We then drove back towards layby 85 of the A9 (where I had broken down). Along the way I had woken from my sleep in tremendous pain, with numbness and shooting pains all along my right arm and a completely numb right hand. Both my wrists were seriously swollen and I had almost no use of my right hand at all. I was in a panic and had asked if

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there was a nearby hospital I could go to, but Ruaridh had said there wasn’t. I had to take the situation into my own hands – so to speak – and had started massaging the wrists, specifically on the swollen parts. This had an immediate effect on the right hand, much to my surprise, and I had continued to do so until the fingers were all mobile again. I then did the same for the left wrist – and also took a dose of ibuprofen and paracetamol, to fight the swelling. It had seemed to work – really quickly… Within half an hour the hands were almost back to normal and the swelling had receded – which had seemed miraculous to me, at the time. I was still loathe to continue, despite this improvement, but Ruaridh had suggested that I try my best to continue – and had said he would even follow along in the taxi for a few miles, until I had decided to either call it off or continue. To my surprise, I had become completely normal (and fully comfortable) as soon as I started riding – and I knew at that point that I would succeed in completing the journey. My goal to finish the ride in under 113 hours (the Audax UK time limit for the distance) was no longer realistic, after about 9 hours off the road due to the mechanical problems – but the Guinness World Record (of 6 days and 10 hours, for the ElliptiGO ride across Britain) was still within my reach (having been riding for 4 days and 30 minutes at the time I had resumed the journey, at 18:45 on 30 May 2016). So the Guinness World Record had become my main focus from that point on – and I had made speedy progress along the A9 (and parallel routes) – stopping at a café for dinner, before heading out into the night for a non-stop ride into the morning. I was upbeat – and feeling strong – after more than 4 hours of sleep (during the down-time, whilst having the bike repaired). I did not get drowsy at all that night and actually enjoyed the night ride a lot. I had felt ‘progressive’ and fast again – and I was physically and mentally strong again. I had ridden strongly throughout the whole night. The wind speed had lowered, making for good progress through the night (despite the wind still actually blowing against my direction of travel – as it had for the entire journey – much to my surprise). I had powered all the way to Inverness, which I had entered at great speed – as I had descended the fast roads towards the bridge at Moray Firth. I had crossed the long bridge at Moray Firth and entered a very hilly final section of the course. The signs indicated 104-miles to John O’Groats, which, under the circumstances, did not actually seem too far. But it was exceedingly hilly in this part of Scotland – and progress was extremely slow. That might have been the slowest 104-miles I have ever ridden, thanks to all the wind and all the steep hill climbs. The climbing was causing me to overheat, but the fast descents were cold, so I could not strip off my layers of clothing. I had stopped just once during the final day, for lunch in a café along the coastal route, and then I had continued laboriously towards the finish. It was pointed out to me that afternoon, by my

support group, that I was probably on course for a 5-day finish time (and it was suggested, in the support group, that I might want to try to get to John O’Groats just under the 5-day mark for the full journey). That challenge had really engaged me at the time. I had been awake since the bike repair the previous afternoon – meaning that I was becoming quite drowsy again. So, in order to help keep myself lucid, I had started to sprint hard up all the uphills (and to relax on the downhills and flats). But that did not work, in that I still became quite drowsy and detached despite the big efforts. I had felt like I was no longer participating in the ride, instead I had felt like I was observing someone else riding. I regularly forgot why I was there – and what I was there for. I also had a weird sense of deja-vu all through that final afternoon of riding (everything had seemed familiar and I’d felt like I was anticipating the scenes that would appear around every curve in the road). But I had kept on pushing – physically (and even mentally). Sometimes I would sprint to the top of a long hill and then actually stop there to ponder where I was – or to ponder over why I was riding so hard. Then it would all come back to me again in a brief moment of clarity – and I would coast down to the foot of the next hill and start a new sprint for the next summit. But often, by the top of each successive hill, I would have once again forgotten what I was doing – or why! That’s sleep-deprivation for you! This ‘detached’ riding went on until I was very close to John O’Groats, at which point I was dead set on beating the 5-day mark (and I had become very lucid and alert again, as the end had neared). I had sprinted hard for the final hour of the journey, even on the downhill sections and flat sections of the course, but the road surfaces were very bad (as was the headwind – and the hills). So I was not quite able to make the sort of pace I had needed, if I was to finish the whole ride in under 5 days. Again, apart from the treacherous hills and the strong headwind, I can’t help but blame my lack of speed work in training for my lack of pace. My legs had never tired during this journey, I had always felt extremely strong and durable. But my pace was never great - and was always slightly slower than I had expected. This final part of the trip had seemed unending – and I could not understand why I hadn’t reached John O’Groats yet. The last 2-miles to John O’Groats were the most frustrating of all, as I’d realised I would probably not beat 5-days (but would likely get very close). So I had got suddenly furious as I rode those final 2-miles. I’d decided that

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Arrivée 133 - Summer 2016  

Arrivée is the free magazine of Audax United Kingdom, the long distance cyclists’ association, which represents the Randonneurs Mondiaux in...

Arrivée 133 - Summer 2016  

Arrivée is the free magazine of Audax United Kingdom, the long distance cyclists’ association, which represents the Randonneurs Mondiaux in...

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