Ryan Postlethwaite a Solicitor at Express Solicitors took on a mammoth bike ride in September from Lands’ End to John O’Groats a total of 980 miles in 9 days. All in the aid of charity. Of the 800 people who started this epic journey only 530 survived to finish it.
Below is a day by day diary of Ryan’s adventure the highs and lows of 980 miles in the saddle.
After getting the obligatory sign photograph and with some excitement but mostly nerves(!) we set off from Land’s End at 7am on Saturday morning. The organisers felt it appropriate to wake us up at 5:30 with Ant and Dec’s “let’s get ready to rumble” blaring out of the tannoy!
We made our way through Cornwall and into Devon on Day 1, finishing the ride at Okehampton. We covered 105 miles and 8500 feet of climbing – the hilliest of the 9 days and boy did everyone know it when we arrived in Okehampton. Unfortunately for one rider, his adventure finished 1 mile down the road after coming off at the first roundabout – a broken wrist and some hurt pride, but he was waiting for everyone in camp at the end of day 1 with a story to tell.
Day 2 brings 111 miles with (just!) 6800 feet of climbing, but the end of the ride has the infamous Cheddar Gorge climb – something to look forward to!
After a very poor night’s sleep due to wind howling around our tents, day 2 began at 05:30 with Robbie Williams ‘Let Me Entertain You’ playing out loud across the campsite. After a quick breakfast of porridge for me (and a Full English for others) we all set off at 07:00 for the 111 mile ride from Okehampton to Bath.
The route started off quite undulating through to the first feed station at 38 miles. After the first feed station, 5 miles of relative flat helped ease the tiredness until the first big climb at Cothelstone. At the bottom of the climb, we enjoyed 10 miles of beautiful flat, until we tackled the scenic, but tough climb, of Cheddar Gorge, which saw us rise 900 feet in a mile and a half. the final 15 miles of the day saw more undulating hills before we finished off at Bath University, having done 6800 feet of climbing over the day. The advantage of being at Bath University is that for one night only, we get to enjoy an actual bed in the university halls of residence.
After a leg massage and a quick bite to eat, everyone is looking forward to a well earned night’s sleep.
After a good night’s sleep in Bath (and suitably loaded with porridge and bananas!) we began the 100 mile ride to Ludlow. Unfortunately for me, the start of my ride lasted 1 1/2 miles before my wheel decided to explode and buckle. A quick call to the mechanics provided me with a new wheel, but only half a mile later my tyre exploded and I had to make a second call to the mechanics who kindly got me on my way.
£110 out of pocket and officially in last place out of 800 riders I then began what was surely going to be a long day given the drama at the start! The technical term amongst cyclist for what happened is ‘having a mare!’
The route took us over the Severn Bridge and briefly into Wales before continuing northwards up to Ludlow Racecourse – our camp for the night. Another relatively hilly day (6000 feet) but slightly less climbing than the previous two days, although they had taken their toll and it didn’t feel like less climbing.
All in all, despite the start, it was a lovely day on the bike and some stunning views were our reward.
This is our rest day, but we still cover 100 miles and 3500 feet of climbing!
There was no need for an alarm on day 4 – the sound of rain smashing against our tents woke us up long before we had to get up. It was going to be a long day!
We set off from Ludlow Racecourse and made our way towards to North West. It poured with rain all morning, soaking us all through, but came out quite bright in the afternoon. The rain in the morning made some of the tight descents quite treacherous, especially on the small country lanes that were full of gravel but we (mostly!) made it back in one piece.
The first half of the day had quite a lot of climbing, but it soon levelled off and we had lovely flat roads for the second half in the Cheshire Lanes. We travelled to the east of Shrewsbury, then passed through Nantwich and into Knutsford before arriving at Haydock Racecouse – our camp for the night. Everyone was filthy (as were the bikes) after the wet start – I’m fairly sure most people spent more time caring for and cleaning their bikes than they did for themselves!
Cupcakes were waiting at the finish – a night reward after a tough ‘rest’ day which saw us travel 107 miles and climb 3300 feet.
After a cold night, we made our way out of Haydock Racecourse towards Penrith, a route that would see us cover 108 miles and 5500 feet of climbing.
The first 30 miles saw us go from town to town which inevitably meant being on the bike in heavily populated areas during rush hour – it was a slow start until the first feed station just after Preston.
We soon headed into the Lancashire single track roads, before crossing into Cumbria which brought stunning views and lovely rolling roads.
The last stint saw us tackle Shap Fell which is an 8 mile climb on the busy A6, before a lovely 20 mile run into Penrith and the end of Day 5.
The day started with a nice 10 mile descent into Carlisle from Penrith, but the weather soon changed and it poured down for 3 hours with a strong head wind that made cycling (with already very tired legs!) tough.
We travelled through Gretna and then up through southern Scotland.
Unfortunately, with 40 miles to go, the electric gears on my bike decided to run out of battery so faced with the option of cycling 40 miles with one gear, I called in the mechanics (who are now on first name terms with me!) and they provided me with a ‘loan’ bike to get me home – it was tough going on a new bike that I wasn’t used to (and significantly heavier and generally worse than my normal bike!) but I eventually made it to Edinburgh, our end point for day 6.
This was one of the longest rides, with 115 miles of cycling but fortunately the climbing wasn’t too bad (5000 feet).
Day 7 and 8 are tough, but I can start to see that the end is in sight.
This was always going to be a tough day. It was the third longest ride (112 miles) and the second highest amount of climbing (7500 feet), only beaten by the first day when we had fresh legs.
We left Edinburgh at 7am and almost immediately crossed the (old) Forth Road Bridge which was an amazing experience for all to cycle on. We then headed on an undulating route passed Cowdenbeath, which saw wind, rain and sunshine.
We then headed passed Perth and began our climb into the Cairngorms. The toughest climb of the day was the first major climb and saw us take on Glenshee – the climb saw us ride 2000 feet over approximately 10 miles, but it got very steep (especially for our tired legs!) near the top. Fortunately, there was a feed station at the top, before we descended into Braemar and passed Balmoral Castle, a truly stunning sight. We then headed up two difficult climbs over the Grampian mountains but were rewarded with fantastic views and beautiful descents.
The final 6 miles saw us descend into Strathdon, our base for the night, all feeling like we’ve had a very tough day!
The day began in a very cold Strathdon. So cold in fact that ice had formed on the outside of the tents. Apparently it reached -3 degrees outside overnight. All of this led to a very poor night’s sleep for all.
We set off from Strathdon at 6:45, knowing that after 10 miles we had to tackle the infamous ‘Lecht’ climb, rates as one of the toughest climbs in the country. Many people walked up it, but I managed to stay on my bike (and to be honest, it looked harder work walking up!). The climb was tough, not only because of how steep it was, but it was quite long. The views of the Lecht ski centre at the top were immense.
We then made our way down from the Cairngorms to Inverness, before making our way around the Beauly Firth, in what was a nice 10 miles of relative flat.
To finish the day, we climbed up the Grampian Mountains, before arriving at Kyle of Sutherland, our base for the night. After 119 miles (our longest ride) and 6500 feet of ascent, we were all ready for an early night
Despite a horrendous forecast, the start of our final day started very dry. A slightly earlier start at 6:15am meant that we needed to use lights for the first time.
The route saw us climb north gradually until we reached the coast. As we were travelling north, gail-force westerly winds were blowing us sideways which made for difficult cycling. As we hit the northern coast, we headed west which meant we had a truly amazing tail wind which blew us into John o’ Groats – 105 miles and 4900 feet of climbing later.
The ride into John o’ Groats was really special with fantastic views of the coast. With family and friends waiting for us, we finally reached the end point of our journey having covered 960 miles and 57000 feet of ascent (the equivalent of twice up Everest) over 9 days of fun, pain, tiredness and a rollercoaster of emotions.
Of the ride, Ryan commented “The ride was an extremely challenging but euphoric experience. The toughest aspect to the ride was the mental element, especially at the start knowing how far there was to go, but as the days went by and the end came into sight (together with some spectacular views on days 6-9), the realisation that we were going to complete the challenge overtook everything and made for a superb final ride into John o’ Groats. One item ticked off the bucket list!”