At some point in our journey I was convinced I was going to start a blog with ‘August Malcolm and Justin hates June Malcolm and Justin’, meaning that it is all too easy to make decisions in planning but those judgements can have profound ramifications when you’re on the road riding with those decisions. But this is not the case. The highly regimented approach to planning was never the style Malcolm and I were going to adopt. We are more relaxed in our approach and, in a vague way, we anticipated that we could never account for what we were going to encounter on the ride. And we put a lot of faith in Garmin! If we had taken a more disciplined approach, we would have missed the glorious, unintended accidents and opportunities, such as crossing the south of the Chilterns at golden hour, traversing some of the mountain bike routes in the Cairngorms, experiencing the vibrancy of Manchester and Birmingham, or cycling Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent’s canal network.
Writing this blog has been incredibly rewarding and frustrating. Rewarding in so far as Malcolm and I now have a record we intend to print off of the little incidents that occurred each day that make the journey our own personal adventure. Rewarding in receiving feedback from others about our exploits (incidentally, at the bottom of this post are several small buttons in grey and one says ‘Comments’ or ‘Reply’. It would be great if you could leave one, even a single word, and I will ensure Malcolm sees it too). But the blogs have been frustrating because I often had to rush to finish them, with last paragraphs in particular suffering, and, therefore, I am convinced it is full of mistakes and clunky expression. I haven’t read through the blog posts again, although I have added images to the first few days. However, I am sure you’ll understand the conditions in which the blog was being written and that it was often rushed because we had to go cycling and ‘we had promises to keep’.
A word about our sponsors. Halfords have donated equipment to us and invaluable advice. I’ve mentioned them before but Mark, Colin, James, Ben and Tom in the Chichester branch have been nothing but patient and kind with us, particularly when we’ve asked some stupid, naïve questions. This also applies to Inverness Carl and Mal from Carlisle Halfords who were good-humoured, sympathetic and wise with their advice. The Premier Inn staff have always been welcoming. The Carlisle branch even gave us a goody bag of food for our journey. There was one particular member of Premier Inn in Lancaster who stands out because she went out of her way to help us get our clothes dry and park our bikes somewhere dry too. Unfortunately, I can’t remember her name but she is a credit to Premier Inn. Thank you from us to both Halfords and Premier Inn.
The two Mayor of Chichester’s charities that will receive the money are Stonepillow and the Oxmarket Gallery.
Stonepillow is a local homeless charity that does great work in the area and they have a ‘The Big Sleep Out 2018’ event on Saturday 13thOctober (I think) should anyone in the Chichester area want to get involved. The plight of two homeless people we passed by will certainly stay with me. Not only the hooded man on an early Carlisle morning already saturated in the rain seen by Malcolm, but a woman on a narrow traffic island in Birmingham, facing the oncoming traffic with something like nobility, not looking anyone pleadingly in the eye, but allowing the sign to carry all the weight of her message ‘Please help. Homeless’. We saw people bedding down beneath bridges on the Birmingham canal network too but I think it is the dignified woman who will linger with me longest.
The Oxmarket Gallery is a volunteer run organization that runs exhibitions throughout the year, which are free to the public. I have had a friend, Claire Grover, exhibit there and it is a wonderful space to view art, and something very close to Mayor Martyn Bell’s heart. As our support driver, Martyn took the opportunity to undertake a ‘pilgrimage’ to several art galleries on the trip, The New Art Gallery, Walsall being a particular highlight for him.
The two organisations are very different types of charities, but Malcolm and I are proud to have undertaken the ride for them.
Incidentally, several people have said that the Virgin Money Giving processing on the donate page can seem to throw you out when you are trying to donate. Please persevere. Every penny will be going to these two charities and not to replacing my knees, I can assure you.
Garmin and the bikes. I have moaned about Garmin but, of course, it was all user error. When I went on holiday earlier in the summer, Garmin had plotted good routes and was simple to follow. She is also easy to programme/program, especially if you plan your route on an internet page like ‘Ride with GPS’ (https://ridewithgps.com) and import the GPX file. However, I do find some of the menus and the swipes on the screen (which can have a delay) quite difficult to navigate, but that could just be me. I found Garmin was also not very flexible if she came across surprises like roadworks but, in more competent hands, I can see how she would be an invaluable and a useful tool.
The bikes we used were a pair of Carrera Virtuoso road bikes from Halfords. They cost about £325 pounds. The only adaptations we made were more comfortable (but still slim profile) seats and self-sealing slime in the tyres. If you have been reading other blog entries, you will know that the bikes were put through more than most ‘superior’ road bikes could handle and were more than a match for anything thrown at them. They are heavier than many road bikes but sturdy and built well. Malcolm and I could not recommend them highly enough and always felt mechanically safe on them. We didn’t even have a single puncture!
If you want my advice if you are considering undertaking a similar challenge, get yourself a Carl. The Inverness and Manchester varieties are the ones I can recommend but other Carls may be available. Remember that what you are doing is not just arduous but amazing; you are seeing the country and sights at a pace no car will experience them. Furthermore, unlike cars, the senses are stimulated: different birdsong from different areas of the country, the scent of pine resin from an industrial woodshed in the Lake District, the lowing of cattle, fertiliser on the fields, children’s cries of joy across a river, the unaccountable aroma of cooking sugar that made us ravenous somewhere around Chorley, the shush of high winds in Caledonian forests… Some destinations will stick in the mind more than others – the beauty of Dornoch, Perth and Stratford-upon-Avon, but this journey was never just about reaching destinations.
The following remarks in italics are directly from Malcolm:
So what does it take to cycle the JOG-CHI?
During the long hours on the bike you get plenty of time to think. After the third day of cycling, where we enjoyed an amazing ride through the Cairngorms, I began to feel stronger and, with a better understanding of the challenges ahead of us, felt much more confident that we would complete the cycle in the ten days. That said, it did not mean that the following days cycle could be easily compared. Every day was completely different with new challenges and difficulties to overcome.
Preparing the body and mind for the challenge
You don’t need to be supremely fit to cycle an endurance event such as this. Just look at us! Your mental approach is what makes the difference. Of course we did some training for the JOG-CHI challenge, which I am sure improved our basic fitness levels, but the opportunity to cycle together, get used to the bikes, share our thoughts and concerns, discuss and plan our approach was just as important as the improvements to our stamina and strength. We had, quite early on, agreed that we needed to break up each day in smaller, more achievable goals. Most days were split into either quarters or thirds. A typical day would have us cycle two sessions in the morning and two in the afternoon. Ideally we would try to cycle more than half of the day’s mileage by the end of the second session, which would, in a perfect world, give us a psychological advantage.
With each session completed, the mileage quickly grew and our confidence with it. By the time we reached the last session of the day, we were feeling it in our legs and bodies but the promise of some hot food and a pint of Guinness spurred us on.
Other important factors
A team approach:
The team approach to each day was really important. At breakfast we would discuss the day’s cycle and whether we would deviate from our original planned route. As more days passed, we relied less and less on ‘Herself’ and decided to follow a basic map route. With pages torn from a road atlas, we were able to agree on a simple route that avoided major roads. This was fine until we had to navigate through or round a town. This meant a different approach was needed and on many occasions luck was on our side when we finally found a way.
Martyn’s input was very important and he often set us off with a reminder of how best to get out of the town we were in so that we could achieve some serious mileage. He was then available to restock provisions on route (normally after the second session) and then was always there ready to congratulate us when we completed the day’s ride.
Spending hour after hour cycling in a pair was comforting. We took turns at the front especially if we were riding into a strong head wind which meant the rider at the back got a break. Justin and I had a measured approach to each day’s cycle. We have a similar laid back nature and we never really got overly anxious or bothered about decisions that had to be taken quickly or if we had taken a wrong turn. Even when we were tired, we were able to overcome difficulties without any bother. Being able to laugh at each other and ourselves was also essential. There were moments when cycling became difficult because we could not control our laughter and our legs had turned to jelly. The partnership and trust in each other was another really important factor in reaching our destination at the end of each day.
Sponsorship and charities that really mattered
It was never really discussed at length but we each had a shared understanding that so many people had been so generous in their sponsorship. The charities we were riding for were dear to our hearts and we did not want to let anyone down. We were silently determined to achieve the challenge, raise awareness and as much money as possible for Stonepillow and the Oxmarket Gallery. When we shared some of the comments and best wishes that were added to the Virgin-Just-Giving page, this further inspired us to keep going even when we were faced by yet another hill.
Cycling five days through Scotland and then a further five through England with only one day of poor weather was simply amazing. Our wet weather gear was incredibly basic so we were very lucky not to experience more of the ‘wet stuff’ along the way. The day that we did experience driving rain was further testament to the strong partnership that Justin and I had formed. We decided, within minutes of the day, that we just had to get our head down and work against whatever rain and wind was thrown at us. We did not complain and even managed to laugh at each other as the steam rose from our soaked, shivering bodies as we clasped hot coffees at the back of a garage.
Support and encouragement across the country
We were always amazed at the support and encouragement we had along the way. From the incredibly helpful staff at Premier Inns and Halfords to the many people we bumped into en route who wanted to chat about our challenge, every one of them helped to spur on our efforts.
How it worked for us
On reflection, we could have given more thought to diet and preparation but our approach worked for us.
The event was one that will stay with me forever. The opportunity to cycle with Justin through such amazing countryside, to build a friendship with Martyn, to have the support of such amazing people such as Clare and Helen, to visit the Stonepillow and the Palace of Scone; all of these will be ever-lasting memories.
The opportunity to raise money for two important local charities whilst cycling with a good friend on a fully supported event was one I could not refuse. These memories will still with me but, for now, cycling around West Sussex, will be as far I will venture.
Particular moments and people stay with me (and I expect Malcolm) too: the Provost of Perth and his assistant and the warm welcome they gave us, along with the witty journalist who came to document our arrival there; the bleak uniform dark green at the top of Caithness, where really only sheep, hardy cows and wind turbines thrive in the fields; the jagged beauty of a Scottish horizon and the wide vistas across bridges crossing firths that no camera can do justice; the carnage of wildlife killed on the roads – hedgehogs clearly have migrated to Scotland, but are barely seen amongst the corpses of badgers, stoats and foxes of the South, and I have seen three dead birds of prey, including an owl; the shrines to people who have died on the roadsides – one at the top of a switchback pass to the north of Dunfermline and the other just to the south of Shap Pass in the Lake District stand out because clearly children had died there too; the wildness of the Cairngorms and their torrents of rust-brown water from the peat; the vibrancy of Aviemore with its pretty railway station hosting its Harley Davidson convention ‘Thunder in the Glens’; crossing the Firth of Forth under stormy clouds that had passed us by; the remote, austere beauty of Lanarkshire beneath the last light of day, as the sun sets alight the clouds, before fading completely; passing the trainspotter in Dumfries and Galloway who was being judged by a small flock of hairy sheep; finding THE ROAD, the B7076 towards the Scottish borders; learning from the landlady at Beattock, who had spoken to all sorts of riders undertaking the LeJog and JogLe challenge, of the young woman who tried to complete the entire thing in three days, but gave up and took a train home; Malcolm and I posing for ridiculous photographs outside the Gretna Green road sign, as real weddings pass by and a coach driver tips his hat and wishes us an ironic ‘Congratulations’; the hills of the Lake District just barely visible emerging from clouds, as if they were someone’s impression of a hill but they could not be bothered to sketch in details; the slog of Shap Pass and the dangerous descent on the other side, and the little boy looking out at us from his bedroom window in a remote farmhouse some miles north of Kendal; the kindly service station attendant who let us get some semblance of dry for the best part of an hour and the Premier Inn receptionist in Lancaster who willingly allowed us to dry our clothes; the youthful dynamism of Salford and Media City, as well as the woman who shook her head at us for daring to take a distant shot of her passing canal boat, whilst her husband just grinned; the group of about 30 Mancunian teenage boys taking up the whole of a busy A-road with their wheelies; Carl and Jackie, and their amazing bacon rolls; Staffordshire and its endless hills; the young man walking his dog who gave us incredibly precise details late at night in Stoke-on-Trent; canal towpaths and a muttering wife opening one of 36 locks whilst her husband casually helmed the boat; old fishermen grouped around a small, pretty lake somewhere 20 miles south of Stoke-on-Trent; the bearded boatman who shook his head at us in a ‘You’re both a pair of fools’ way, as we heaved our bikes into a farmer’s field; the brutal, run-down grandeur of an abandoned power station near Rugeley and the immensity of the Amazon depot stood beside it; the helpfulness of the customers in a Sainsbury’s garage in Tamworth and Malcolm being caught in the act of photographing a map; the father who gave us detailed directions about the canal network some ten miles outside of Birmingham; the young mountain-biker who led us through Spaghetti Junction and bunny-hopped over the lock ramps on the towpath; the urban majesty of the space beneath Spaghetti Junction; the chaotic, thrilling spilling out of humanity and different cultures in the Sparkhill district of Birmingham; wandering around Stratford-upon-Avon at night and having a drink beside the actors who had just finished their performances in the theatre in The Black Swan or ‘The Dirty Duck’, as Martyn called it; the driver who thought ‘That was it’ when another vehicle had almost collided with him outside Stratford; the merciless slope of Edgehill and an older biker’s cheerful ‘Morning’ as he passes by; the veteran of LeJog in Banbury with the amazing handlebar moustache that became little spirals at the end; Malcolm and I pelting along the road to Oxford because we were successfully drafting; the stunningly beautiful woman we managed to annoy in Oxford because we unintentionally stopped on a cycle path, causing her to abandon one of the town bikes and cross the road away from us – we’ve still got it!; a gyrocopter buzzing the gorgeous landscape north of Goring; the lights of Basingstoke refusing to reveal themselves; the beauty of the Sussex Downs; choosing to do the Goodwood hill as a last ‘kill the hills’ effort; the fact that this country seems to be made of hills, especially leading into towns, and only Cheshire seemed in anyway flat to us; of the bitter-sweetness of coming home and losing the sense of camaraderie we had forged between Martyn, Malcolm and myself but the delight in seeing the families we had missed so much; of the surreal moment of walking behind a town-crier, a bailiff and a Scottish piper as we bring the centre of Chichester to a halt… All moments, people and places I hope to remember.
I write these things down as aide-memoires for myself and Malcolm, as much as for anyone else. We have cycled the lengths of Scotland and England. Other than a few southern counties, like Devon and Cornwall, as well as other exceptions, if you live on mainland England, Scotland or Wales, we have bisected your latitude at some point in our journey. Both countries are full of beauty and warm people who have done nothing but assist us.
Martyn the Landmark Mayor was a fantastic support driver for us, always having rooms prepared well before we arrived, helping us with preparations and logistics. He was also incredibly generous, as well as full of tales and anecdotes of his time in the Midlands. I had barely seen Malcolm for several years before we started planning this long ride. However, he was the perfect companion: relaxed, good-humoured, stoic, patient, bold, often hilarious, quick to smile and laugh… The perfect companion for this long ride.
Thank you to those who have donated (there’s still time if you haven’t – the donate button is at the top of the page). Thank you to our friends and families, particularly our wives and children who supported us through the ride and its planning stages.
And, lastly, thanks to you for coming along for the ride.
Malcolm & Justin