Cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats – two ways to do it

Ever since I was a kid I’d always wanted to try and ride LEJOG as it is commonly known and at 58 I finally achieved that childhood ambition. Little did I know then that I’d ride it again, nine years later.

My first attempt was in July 2004. It was a solo unsupported ride on my Dawes Galaxy touring bike, with four fully loaded panniers and a bar bag, carrying a tent and all my equipment. At the time I’d done little or no training and probably the furthest I’d ridden in a day was 60 miles, so I was a little apprehensive as to whether I could actually do it.

Anyway, by now I was retired with no time restraints, so off I went. People seem to think that the hills of Scotland will be the hardest bit, but they’re a doddle compared with the initial steep ups and downs of Cornwall and Devon. If you can survive the first two or three days then you can do the rest.

lejog-2004-001 Start of solo ride July 2004

Route planning is obviously quite important and for this I mainly used the route set out in an excellent book called Bike Britain (an Epic Guide) by Paul Salter. Where possible, this uses as many minor roads as possible and tries to avoid major towns. I covered a total distance of 966 miles (1555 km.) in 13 days which averaged out at around 75 miles a day. The shortest distance I did was 52 miles in Scotland, when it poured all day, and my best daily distance was 105 miles.

Although I got very wet at times I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and felt a great sense of achievement at the end. My fitness and strength clearly improved day by day and after my initial concern I quickly realised I could do this and a lot quicker than I thought possible. Whilst my original intention was to try and camp every night, I have to confess the changeable British weather meant a few nights were spent in the comfort of a B&B.

So, having achieved one of my ambitions, I never thought I’d be doing it again in 2013. However, following much persuasion from my son in law, Peter (Dumbreck), and his racing driver friends Darren and Stuart, I somewhat reluctantly agreed. This would be different though; this time the ride would be fully supported by Darren’s dad Chris driving a van with all our gear. Better still I could now ride my lovely Van Nicholas road bike carrying only water bottles and a few essential tools.

img_0793 Start of group ride August 2013

We’d set ourselves an initial target of nine, maybe ten days, but were a little worried initially by Darren’s fitness as he seemed to be struggling on 50 mile training rides. We needn’t have worried though as his fitness rapidly improved and we ended up doing it in just eight days. In fact, being around 30 years older than the others, it was me who began to struggle a bit towards the end, but they were all very good pacing me and supplying endless jelly babies.

Keeping each other going is a big advantage of a group ride and it’s certainly a completely different experience with a lot of fun and banter along the way. Stuart is a close friend of Alex Dowsett and kept us amused often riding in Dowsett’s old personalised ex-Team Sky kit. At the bottom of Shap in Cumbria we met three guys from a local club who said hello, rode with us for a bit, and then shot off. This ignited the competitive spirit in Peter and Stuart and off they went in hot pursuit, racing these three guys and beating them to the summit. I’m fairly sure, given their level of fitness; they could have easily done the ride in six days.

Anyway, this time in the eight days we covered 892 miles (1435 km), averaging around 111 miles a day. The route this time took in more major roads, hence the difference in duration, although after crossing the Erskine Bridge at Glasgow, both routes were the same.

Just a final couple of points of interest…

The conventional way of riding LEJOG has always been from the south to the north, the main reason being the prevailing winds in the UK. This was certainly a great advantage on my first ride when a gale blew me along the Somerset levels at great speed. Club member Barry Duplock has just ridden it in the other direction and he confirmed that headwinds were a problem.

The record for LEJOG was set by Gethin Butler in 2001 with a time of 44 hours, 4 minutes and 20 seconds. Someone on a wind cheating recumbent has done it in just 41 hours.