Helmsdale to John O’Groats

Our expectations for our last day were mixed for a number of reasons:

The Weather

The forecast was windy and wet all the way. On the whole, the weather has been good to us except on two days when once wet, we became incredibly cold and uncomfortable which many of us found extremely tough. The forecast filled some of us with dread that this last stretch may be our toughest yet.

The Distance

We had 75 miles to cover to follow the recommended route and avoid travelling the whole way on the busy and fast A9. The thought of doing this distance in the predicted weather terrified some of us and so the evening before a few of us had taken a preemptive strike and had cycled on to Kinbrace to reduce our final day’s mileage to 60 miles.

The Challenge

We have all worked so hard training for this challenge and the last two weeks had proved to be the most physically demanding we have ever experienced. We have been physically and emotionally challenged, uplifted, exhilarated and exhausted. There has been little time for anything other than cycling, eating and sleeping. After all our hard work, the end was in sight and we were excited that we were so close to achieving our goal yet a little sad that our adventure was coming to an end.

The Team

From our many different backgrounds, locations and with our own reasons for doing this challenge, we have come together to achieve something really special and in order to do so, we have formed an incredibly supportive, fun and determined team, building on existing friendships and developing new ones which we will miss when we go our different ways.

The Reality

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-09 at 19.27.52In reality, our last day was, for the most part, warm, dry and not too windy. With the weather conditions able to make or break the challenge, we were filled with gratitude that our last day was not to be as tough as we had anticipated. The route took us along some wonderful roads through stunning countryside and we managed our fastest consistent pace of the challenge. The majority of the group even added another few miles to visit Dunnet Head en route.

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Late afternoon. we reached John O’Groats within half an hour of each other. Our thoughts were with Christine, who’s accident had prevented her finishing with us, as we cycled he last few hundred metres together to the infamous John O’Groats sign, cheering, laughing and some of us crying as we experienced a mix of emotions at achieving our goal.

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-09 at 20.38.49WhatsApp Image 2018-09-09 at 20.38.51WhatsApp Image 2018-09-09 at 20.38.48WhatsApp Image 2018-09-09 at 20.38.50Due to the size of the group, our matching team jerseys and our exuberance, many bemused tourists watched as we celebrated reaching our goal with a champagne toast, an abundance of photographs and much hilarity and mixed emotions.

WE DID IT!

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Evanton to Helmsdale & Beyond 57-74 Miles

Taking Advantage of a Beautiful Day

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We are almost there and we cannot believe it. Yet again the conditions have been perfect – no rain or wind, almost balmy temperatures and some periods of sunshine. We have seen deer, seals and highland cattle, numerous sea birds and even a tall ship in Helmsdale harbour.

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We have been treated to a range of delicious goodies from the back of Alison’s friend, Julie’s car and we have tasted the best hot chocolate in the world in Dornoch. The roads in the morning were spectacular again – though the A9 during the afternoon was not so much fun! The weather was so good that a few intrepid Cyclopaths decided to cycle a few extra miles today on order to slightly shorten their final day tomorrow. We were treated to a stunningly beautiful ride in the early evening sunshine while others may have to cycle that road in rather inclement weather tomorrow – watch this space.

We are feeling a huge sense of excitement, anticipation, and so much sadness that our epic adventure is almost over. Bring on Day 14……

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Aviemore to Evanton – 57 Miles

By John Anderson

Today was a welcomed, relatively warm and dry day. We had stunning scenery with sunshine highlighting the Highlands with The Cyclopaths weaving between the heather and fir trees for much of the morning.

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57 miles seemed an easy task! Given what has gone before it did not appear too daunting at breakfast in Aviemore. However, after 800 miles of cycling, nothing is ‘easy’. First thing each day, you need to be back in the saddle. Every fibre of your body screams for some respite, particularly those in direct contact with the saddle. After a few miles the legs relax and warm up and things get easier, although it does seem like certain parts of the anatomy complain all day long.

One of the team had an interesting time repairing a puncture on the main bridge out of Inverness. Never a dull moment, or a day goes by without some form of new challenge. Shortly after this there was warm refuge in the White Cottage Tea Rooms where the team refuelled and refreshed before heading for Evanton.

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For Alison the day had an unexpected and welcomed surprise as her best friend Julie, flew up from Cheltenham to appear on the roadside to cheer us on.

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This is one of many examples of the support friends and family have offered members of the team. Each one is very special and provides much needed encouragement and energy to both that individual and the group as a whole. We are aware that many are following this blog and we find inspiration and motivation from the messages left – thank you.

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What a Difference a Day Makes

A Message From Christine:

From the peak of fitness, cycling 80 miles a day to hardly being able to put one foot in front of the other was a shock. I knew as soon as I hit the ground I wouldn’t be continuing to John O’Groats but immediately felt safe surrounded by the Cyclopath doctors and nurses. I could hear the reassuring Scottish tones of the local fireman and my good friend Julia was close by. A & E was bearable thanks to Chris and Chris who have more than lived up to their title “support team”. Thanks guys for looking after me.

I received excellent care at Wishaw General Hospital where a fractured pelvis was diagnosed and my new challenge was to walk to the bathroom and climb stairs. This was doable with the support of physios and encouraging words  “you can do it hen” from my cheery, elderly roommates, Myra, Alice and Elizabeth. They applauded when I made it across the room and shared their treats. By the end of that day they all wanted to “have a go” at walking.
On Thursday my ‘knights in shining armour’; husband Malcolm and daughter Emily made a 691 mile round trip to deliver me safely home. Stopping at the services was hairy with my lack of coordination with the crutches, an old lady swiftly overtook me. Riding a bike is much easier!
Many thanks to all the people who sponsored me and I WILL complete the journey as soon as I’m able. Thanks to everyone who wished me well on the blog. Best wishes to the Cyclopaths for your last two days, savour the moments. I loved cycling with every one of you and I’m enjoying the blog and the daily photographs. I almost feel I’m there and can picture each of your distinctive riding styles and remember all the subtle ways that each team member contributes to the daily progress. Congrats on raising so much money. It’s all downhill from now on!!!! Much love, Chris

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Pitlochry to Aviemore – 60 Miles

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We were all looking forward to today. After a week of extremely long days, 60 miles through the beautiful Scottish scenery seemed an easy prospect. We knew the wind and rain would descend by late morning / early afternoon so with another early start, we thought we would get a few miles covered before we got wet.

Oh, the best laid plans! The rain started by about mile 10 and was torrential! We had 30 miles to cover before our first stop with nowhere to along the route that we could stop beforehand. We followed the busy A9 on a ‘cycle track’ that our road bikes were not equipped for. The gravel, potholes and mud all made more treacherous by the heavy rain.

For many of us, these 20 miles were the toughest we had encountered. Black skies, cold, wet and windy combined with the road conditions, we had to dig deep to reach Dalwhinnie.

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Thankfully our support team were as always on hand when we reached Dalwhinnie, with layers of extra clothing and a wonderfully welcoming cafe with a log burning fire. A hot drink, bowl of soup and change of clothing, along with the usual camaraderie and support for each other and an hour later we were ready to brave the elements again.

Thankfully, the rain eased off and for periods, actually stopped and we even encountered some brief glimpses of sunshine for the second leg of our journey. A brief pit stop in Newtonmore and we reached Aviemore late by afternoon. The scenery was stunning and we managed to enjoy much of it on this leg of the journey.

We had a ‘Highland Buffet’ arranged for the evening and thoroughly enjoyed the ‘eat as much as you like’ element of the meal after expending so many calories during the day.

No two days have been similar and we think about the last leg of our journey over the next three days from Aviemore to Evanton to Helmsdale to John O’Groats with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. We are tired and saddle weary but very much in good spirits as we get closer to the end of our challenge.

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Kirknewton to Pitlochry – 80 Miles

Scotland did us proud today!

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-05 at 09.37.57Today was a great day of beautiful Scottish countryside, breathtaking views accompanied by glorious sunshine. We had plenty of climbs but many were rewarded by glorious views as we reached the top of each climb. The first stop was on the banks of the beautiful Loch Leven and after that a few more climbs interspersed with speedy paths alongside the infamous A9 before our stop in Dunkeld. We reached our final destination Pitlochry with sufficient time to shower and change before supper – a luxury we haven’t always had!

The hills were different to those in Devon and by afternoon many of us were actually enjoying the undulating roads with little traffic and fantastic views. A wonderful (albeit long) day had by all.

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Ecclefechan to Kirknewton – 80 Miles

Support

Today repeatedly showed us all how wonderful people can be.

Crawford Village Hall

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-04 at 23.34.58We met our support vehicle near Crawford Village Hall. Unbeknownst to us, every Tuesday lunchtime, there is a coffee and chat for the villagers. £1.50 for as much cake, coffee and chat as you can manage. Enter twenty Cyclopaths! What a warm welcome we received from these lovely people. We were welcomed with open arms (remember we are rather dishevelled and sweaty at this stage), plied with lovely homemade cakes, cheese on toast and cups of coffee. When they realised we were on a charity cycle ride, they had a whip round and donated very generously to The Cure Parkinson’s Trust. We met some lovely people, shared our stories, had a laugh and left feeling uplifted by the welcoming support from complete strangers.

Firemen and Staff at Abington Fire Station

Shortly after this lovely break, one of The Cyclopaths had an accident and came off her bike. Those trained in medicine and nursing rushed to Christine’s aid, whilst others in the group stopped traffic to ensure her safety and the safety of those helping her as she was lying in the middle of a busy road. The accident happened outside a fire station and the staff from within were immediately on hand offering support and expertise. Thankfully Christine was awake and alert but needed a thorough medical assessment. She has since been admitted to hospital with a fractured pelvis. Throughout she has been remarkably strong, brave and selfless, insisting that we all carry on our journey, leaving the support team to accompany her to hospital.  Sadly she will not be able to complete her journey with us this time.

This incident was scary for all of us and very sobering. This was busy road and thankfully no other vehicles were involved. Chris will not be able to cycle for some time and is understandably upset not to be able to finish the trip. We are so very sad that she is unable to continue her journey with us. Her family have offered to cycle the path she would have taken so that she can complete her LEJOG at a later stage. Some of The Cyclopaths would like to join her too if she would like this.

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The Cyclopaths

A team of confident, competent cyclists, who support each other during this challenge. So many examples of kindness, selflessness and support within the group. It is a privilege to be part of this amazing team.

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Chris & Chris

Our support team Chris & Chris are providing a fantastic service. When we planned this trip, we debated whether we would need a support vehicle and team. Our experience tells us we absolutely did! They have not only fixed our bikes on so many occasions, they have also gone above and beyond many times, too numerous to mention them all but the whole team know, we couldn’t do this without them.

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Family

On arrival at our hotel tonight, I was pleasantly surprised to find my Mum, Dad and sister were there to show their support. Many of us have been lucky to have friends and family join us along the way, provide practical support and offer encouragement.

WhatsApp Image 2018-09-05 at 19.36.19Today has been a day of wonderful highs and sobering lows but the support we received today from so many people in so many different ways was uplifting.