Friday, 20 June 2008

Day 17 –Brora to John O’Groats 68 miles - Mission Success -Total Mileage 944 miles - UK Record/First Achieved!

Today was the day that even the team dared not assume; the day the end2end Team actually would achieve their aim of cycling just short of 1000 miles from the most southern tip to the most northerly point in the UK and secure a UK Record first. It was a day of mixed emotions, elation and delight of achieving an incredible life goal but also a tinge of sadness that the challenge was soon to come to an end; the routine of life, jobs and families that had been excluded from this selfish bubble of indulgence was about to explode into our worlds once again. Equally, we thought about Dad, his death was the catalyst for this madness, he would be proud of his boys and what they (the Team) had achieved. Today was the day it was all about; today was about friendship, life, love and looking ahead to greater challenges that life would hold. We had all learnt much and without doubt are better people for it. As the team as said...COME ON now let’s get on it!

The plan was to get on the road and chomp at this ‘badboy’ early. ‘The Major’s’ alarm went off at 0500 hrs...’Gentlemen we have some unfinished business to attend to...’ The team were up, breakfasted and out by 0615 hrs. Naked bike (something that was planned) may have to wait. The sun was bright and high in the northern sky. The ambiance, when one is so far north, is slightly strange, it feels like the afternoon when in fact it is early in the morning. Ray pulled into a local garage only to find that they open at 0800 hrs; he would catch us up. The lads powered on in quiet anticipation of the stories Hamish had filled our heads from the night before. Ali was driving, a privileged position as he would be the one to cross the line first! His knee was much better; some strapping was doing the trick. The bike was on top form and we flew towards our first challenge at Helmsdale. We just wanted to get on with it...if fact Helmsdale was no problem. First scare story had been discarded...COME ON...we now powered to the dreaded Berriedale valley...bring it on!
The scenery was outstanding. We have been through some of this country’s finest scenes but this was breathtaking. The North Sea was like a deep blue mill pond, the rugged green coast was almost tamed by the lush greenery of the shores and surrounding countryside. The flowers, the crofter’s cottages were all just perfectly placed. It was almost as if everything was deliberately conspired to create the conditions for the perfect arrival and conclusion to this special project. We gave up expressing our delight with the sights...Meanwhile, Ray met with Paul Golging (Aged 50) from Loughborough who had completed his end2end in 18 days covering a distance of 1050 miles. Top fella who looked like a seasoned pro, a man who ate, slept and perspired cycling. He was one of those blokes you look at and know that nothing will stop him, another Eddie Sedgemore, another Alex Baxter. Mind over body sort of guy. He said his farewell and stormed on.

Berridale arrived. A sign indicated the start of something we would not have encountered before on the trip. A sign stated ‘low gear’ 19%, the brakes were applied, disk followed by callipers, we were still travelling too fast. The smell of rear brakes was enough for ‘The Bearded One- Jonathan ’...’Ali pull in were walking down this chap’. Initial resistance from the team was soon silenced as we walked and walked and walked down and then up this ‘abyss’ Jonathan’s memory of 17 years ago was sufficient to know that this fella claims many victims to poor judgement. He stopped at the point he too was nearly claimed by the Berridale hairpin. The team remained safe and after 40 minutes of walking we emerged at the top of the ‘naughtiness’. Wick was 20 miles away...the team pressed on.
Progress was outstanding. Drawn like moths to the flame we saw many fresh end2enders pass us. They were setting off on their journey; how many would complete it? Even the castles and ancient ruins stood silent, how many end2enders had they seen pass. They will have seen it all; even a quadracycle probably wouldn’t impress them now. As the mileage reduced and end approached caution crept in, a silly mistake at this stage would be disappointing if not disastrous. At 1150 hrs we pulled into Wick and found the TA Centre. This would become our spring board for our ultimate goal. Memory cards were down loaded, batteries recharged, lunch and then, COME ON LETS HAVE IT! John O’Groats waited to welcome the lads...a small issue of 17 miles now stood between them and their goal...the boys set off after Jonathan had done a live broadcast to BFBS Forces Radio. Hearts raced as we pulled out of Wick, on our return we would be UK Record Holders. We were off.
Morale was high within the team. It was the strangest journey one could imagine. We were desperate for this to end, to achieve what we had set out to achieve yet we also wanted it to last forever. With every turn of the pedals we approached our end. The scenery was enjoyed, savoured, almost indulged in every moment. We knew that this was it, soon no more bike, no more listening to the calls from the ‘supreme bike commander,’ no more gear up - gear down, no more bloody sore arse! The miles zoomed by, the coastal scenery was yet again outstanding. Castles, old deserted crofter’s cottages, and mile after mile of gorgeous road that seemed to disappear into the distance. It was ironic but even in the final stages when the mileage count down was now in single mileage figures it was almost that this journey needed to make us work one more time. A menacing storm gathered in the west. Black and threatening we almost dared it to beat us to John O’Groats. The final hills were ‘cheeky’ but we didn’t care. As we climbed and descended from the final summit of Warth Hill at 124m, bikecam was activated and we ‘presented’ the pedals for the very last time. The final run in was fast, very fast, and almost too fast for our comfort; Jonathan had visions of a final pile up on the approach road. We remained ok. Every local person we saw was subjected to a mobile chorus of screams, whooping and cries of ‘COME ON.’
We turned into the final John O’Groats site and immediately turned into the car park! Classic, we have successfully travelled 944 miles and then managed to get ourselves into the bloody car park. We cycled out and after a couple of corrective turns we arrived at the genuine finish. Ray waited with the camera. A small crowd had gathered, including and Dave Powell and Derek Draper from the Lake District, they had finished at 1505 hrs covering a total distance of 1020 miles. We also met Janet Wastall and Neville Ward from Bedforshire and Herefordshire they completed their journey the previous day covering a distance of 880 miles. People who could genuinely share in our moment; they too had covered and achieved the distance. To say we were elated is an understatement, moments like this are always strange. We punched the air; we yelled and embraced each other. It was an emotional moment, a moment to savour, a moment to remember, yet a moment that was equally unlikely to be repeated again in our lives. It was special. The champagne was handed to Jonathan and with a couple of shakes the contents were sprayed in a ‘Formula One style’ over the end2end team. Many spectators stood and watched yet we didn’t care this was our moment, ours for pure selfish indulgence. Dad looked down and smiled, his lads had done it and pride filled his heart! Equally, we thought of our mum and the emotional rollercoaster she no doubt had endured. 18 days ago she kissed her boys off on a journey that was full of risk, a journey that 3 of their 4 offspring were sat on the same vulnerable machine. Her boys were safe; we phoned her so that she could share the moment. She now had 3 Record Breaking sons. She was understandably emotional. So, whilst the catalyst was Dad, maybe we did this for Mum, ourselves, our wives, our children or maybe even just for the hell of doing it!

Photographs filled the next 40 minutes, in every style, pose and arrangement one could imagine. JD tops, BLESMA and our normal ‘knight rider’ kit. Ali then got out his didgeridoo and played to the North Sea. It was a great moment; we all stood and watched, listened and enjoyed the soothing effect of the didg! Jonathan (anal boy) went off and got validation forms for the shop followed then by another radio interview with Dune FM. Meanwhile, Mark and Ray dismantled Sheila to allow us to get back into the vehicle. It was a sad moment our trusty stead was reduced to mere collection of component parts; Sheila was no more but a high tech pile of bits. In Southport she would be rebuilt.

The visitors’ end2end book was signed. It was one of the most emotional moments of the project. Jonathan had filled it in, the team signed it. At the base was the simple but true statement that thanked ‘Big G’ for watching over us and keeping the team safe. It was a tear filled moment.
With nothing more to do we said our goodbyes to the place that had been our ultimate destination for the last 17 days. The vehicle was filled with jubilation, people were phoned, Mum, Uncle Phil, Oli and beers were opened. The TA centre soon arrived and after an initial inspection of the photographs and video that we had collated we showered and went out into town.

The evening was predictable. The team reminisced over the experience of the last 18 days. Tales were recounted, experiences and emotions shared; differences and frictions forgotten. This was the night to enjoy and bathe in self congratulation, savour the moment; to enjoy. The processed food and cheap beer of Weatherspoons was to become our place of choice. There we were fortunate enough to meet Lynda and Richard who kindly gave us a donation [Thank you very much]There wasn’t much else in little Wick and as midnight approached eyes and limbs grew tired. The floor of the TA centre called; it was time for bed. The rain started; ironically the first time the team had felt the rain apart from a small drizzle a week ago. The team was hungry. A local police car pulled up and asked if we were ok – ‘sorry lads no food now at this time’ The TA centre called. Ali’s eyes lit up – he would set himself the mission to obtain the Record Setting team emergency nutrition. Ali’s mission was set.

Ali departed from the TA base into the night rain. The time was 0130 hrs, the door shut behind him. The rest of the team went to bed. Meanwhile, Ali spotted the waiter who had served us earlier in the evening. ‘Mate you have got to help...we need food, Can you help?’ The poor fella shook his head and then replied, ‘rumour has it, that a bakers in Wick will provide food as they prepare food for the morning.’ Ali’s eyes lit up, he must now find this bakers whatever it would take. His quest took him down several alleyways and darkened streets. The team must be fed. Still assisted by the Weatherspoons’ waiter, a door with a heavy metal grill came into view. They had discovered the rear of the night bakery. The smell of fresh baked food wafted through the grill door; a radio could be heard. Food was near. Lifting the grill door they managed to prize open the barrier. Anxiously and rather apprehensively they made they’re way through the aroma filled bakery corridors. Two bakers [David and Brian] were startled to see two , wet and wide eyed lads looking at them.

‘Fellas, my names Ali, I’m part of a UK Record Breaking team and we need food.’ Ali looked about, they had just entered the Aladdin’s Cave of pastries, pies and all things good! David and Brian were superb [thanks lads] Ali holding out his last remaining £5 said ‘this is all I have’. The lads did the end2end team well and filled a bag full of the nicest of pies. Ali thanked Dave and Brian and set off to make his way back to base. Mission success – back at the TA centre the team was delighted to see Ali and even more delighted to tuck into his spoils of war. As Jonathan wiped the last bit of pie from his beard, he did comment. ‘Ali you have done well, but this pie could have been slightly hotter mate and you forgot the brown sauce!’ Top effort Ali – the tale went down as one of the legends of the end2end08 tour, the night Ali was determined to feed the boys! [A big thank you to David and Brian from McDonalds Bakery, Wick – your efforts were hugely appreciated by a very hungry end2end team]

With record breaking tummies full the end2end team went to sleep. The day was drawn to a conclusion. Eyes closed and the team drifted away to a land of bikes, pedals and above all returning home. Mission success – top effort lads.

Big G smiled; his lads had done it.

This is the end of this journey...when will the next begin???

Day 16 – Inverness to Brora 59 miles – The Day of 4 Bridges

4 Bridges, several end2enders, top road kill action and a bloke called Martin from Tain. Day 16 was another hard pushed day. The end was now almost around the corner never mind smelling it we could almost touch it. This was the penultimate day and the team was loving it although keen to box this one away. Brora would form another 59 mile bite into the final sprint...

The Officer’s Mess floor looked like a scene from a plane crash, bodies lay strewn about. Ali and Tony (who share the double mattress) appeared comfortable. They had not adopted the spoon position although who knows what had happening in the night. Two weeks is a long time for any man! The team was very lethargic, energy levels low and even Jonathan was not at his ‘normal’ pain in the arse self. It was apparent that the project was starting to tire the team, this is not a quickie. The team thought of home. Jonathan completed the blog upload and the vehicle was packed.
Jonathan decided that we needed a picture of all our equipment, spares and tools etc. This would from an effective picture for our presentations that would follow this epic adventure. The team didn’t dig his plan but complied as the path of least resistance. The pictures were good. With the vehicle repacked and new locations entered the team pushed off. Goodbye to Douggie and staff at Inverness TA Centre – another top bunch. [Thanks fellas]. Energy levels remained low, the time was 0950 hrs and 1 mile in the team pulled into a garage for bananas, chocolate and flapjacks. A lovely lady stopped and gave us £10 for the charities and took our photograph. 58 miles remained. It is a defining moment of the day when you mentally calculate the journey entirety. Characters are fortified or broken at this point; and is usually the moment 'Jonny spin' is deployed. Bridge one (Kessock) formed our extraction route from Inverness to Black Isle. The North Sea looked cold. We considered our desire to fit in a tour swim before we finished – the plan was soon forgotten. We pressed on.

The bike was silent, only the whir of the gears and tyres on the road could be heard. The team was tired and there was nothing to say. Nevertheless our speed was good. Suddenly Jonathan burst into announcement, ‘Gentlemen, we have now covered 10 miles since departure.’ Morale was lifted – the boys and Sheila were shifting with our newly found breakfast energy levels raised. Come on!

The entrants for the road kill competition were excellent. The amusing thing about road kills is that regardless of the speed you are travelling you will always smell it first! Two deer were recorded – they were ‘proper rancid’ even Jonathan, who likes handling dead stuff, was not drawn to handle the entrants. The town of Tain was our lunch target, sitting at 29 miles. Bridge two (Cromarty) was crossed at speed with Doctor Tony at the helm. He now has the downhill braking technique sorted utilising Mr rear disk brake and ‘pulsing’ both rear and front rim callipers. It is like watching a master at work – Ali commented, ‘The doctor is clearly at work in his clinic’ as we all tucked in behind the busy and rather involved ‘Doctor;’ Tony did a superb job – top effort ‘TJ’

Royal Tain was entered at 1350 hrs. What a beautiful town, several heads were turned as the long machine entered. We never fail to have a chuckle to ourselves when ladies say ‘I have never seen one that long!’ Hmm thank you madam...but how about this bike! We pulled in and spoke to Martin. Jonathan asked him, ‘mate do you know any good places to have a bite to eat?’ we then looked up and saw that we had pulled outside his cafe, amusingly he recommended several other places. Martin, who clearly is a local character, was offered a ‘seater’ on Sheila. We carried him down the road, he offered us to come back to his cafe for all the free tea and coffee we could drink. Lunch of local meat pie and chips was delicious. Everywhere we ask for discount people always oblige. The pub gave us a generous £10 to the charities [Thank you]. 23 miles lay ahead...

Starting again after lunch is always very difficult. Your legs are filled with lactic acid and your stomach is desperately attempting to digest the largest meal you have ever seen. The worst thing one could ever do is sit yourself on a bike and start pedalling. We now have got into a routine of stopping every 10 miles. The team gets their heads down until the counter clicks to 10. The boys continually will ask ‘how much further’ privately they know that Jonathan will push extra mileage out of them if he is able. We stopped at 12.5 miles – Jonny had squeezed a cheeky 2.5 miles out of the team. Momentum and pace is everything. Bridge 3 crossing the Dornoch Firth we met Erwin from the Netherlands. He was cycling around Scotland for a week before returning to work as a Chartered Engineer. Top fella, we stopped for mutual bike pictures. He was heading to Edinburgh A9 mate keep on going. [Thanks Erwin – keep on cycling chum]. Finally, bridge four crossing Loch Fleet into Golspie.

That afternoon we past several end2enders who were clearly just starting out. We felt smug and almost veteran like, we had nearly done it yet they were just at the start of a long journey. With leery cheers and fists punched into the air we encouraged our fellow end2enders! The final push into Brora was, as they say, ‘sweet’ although it took 20 minutes to find our accommodation in the Army Cadet Force hut. Fabulous facilities, floor, walls and white porcelain for our sore bums. The team was tired, Ray, Ali and Tony went down to the local sandy beach; it was incredible scenery. Ray got artistic with two dead lobsters. Jonathan and Mark were left sleeping in their sleeping bags. Ali and Tony joked about leaving Ray at the beach although admittedly they wouldn’t have the balls to mess with ‘The Rayster!’

The blog was written; Ali, Tony and Ray recced the local establishments. The boys departed into town for evening scoff where we went to the local Italian Restaurant ‘Il Padrino’. What a fabulous meal we had washed down with the local Base bitter. The meal was one to remember, we all reminisced about the last 2 weeks, the tales, the experience and the impending conclusion to this life experience. There was an air of anticipation. Everyone we had spoken to mentioned the climbs and mad descents on the next day. We met mike (the chef), young Scott and Renato (who served us) they gave us 10% off the bill for charity [Thank you fellas]. End2enders you must stop at this restaurant, great atmosphere and great food. We departed and went for a pint at the Sutherland Hotel. There we met Sandra, her husband Ken, Hamish and Alan. Hamish used the pool table to describe the Mendip Hills compared to what we would face tomorrow! They relished describing the climb and mad descents that we would ‘enjoy’ tomorrow. Hamish gave us his email address so that we could email our experience. Sandra once again collected even more money for us. She was an absolute star, collecting inn total £56 for charity – what nice people, such generosity [ Thank you Sandra for your efforts it was very much appreciated]. With a beer sitting heavy and tales to scare the arse off anyone we returned to our cadet hut. The blog was concluded and the alarm set for 5 am... Tomorrow we would get this cracked...62 miles of hurt but it was time to draw this show to a close. John O’Groats here we come...COME ON BRING IT ON!