Riding Lands end to John O'Groats when you're 12 years old

What are you doing during your Easter holiday? Not many 12 year olds can say they’re cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats to raise money for charity, but Hannah Killick can! She set off from Lands End on Saturday 30th March and today (Tuesday 9th April – just 11 days later) she passed through Kendal, which just happens to be where Cycle Sprog is based. I decided to try and bribe Hannah, her cycling companion (dad Adrian) and logistical chief (mum Rachel), with the promise of ice creams in return for the low down on what it takes to ride this iconic route when you’re in Year 8. Thankfully they all love ice cream!

Hannah Killick and her dad - riding LEJOG in April

First thing I noticed was how happy both Hannah and her Dad looked when they arrived at our designated meeting point (Hansens Dairy just of the cycle path in Kendal if you’re ever passing). And it wasn’t just the thought of ice creams that did it, it seems that they’re really, really enjoying their ride with not even hills, rain or blustery winds having put them off.

I wanted to know how the idea for a 1,000 mile bike ride in the Easter holidays started, and I soon learn that this isn’t Hannah’s first long distance ride. All the way back in Year 1 she was inspired by her teacher, who had run the Marathon de Sables. Miss King explained to the class that she’d done something she really enjoyed (running) to challenge herself and raise money for charity. Inspired, 6 year old Hannah announced she wanted to do the same, but on her bike - and that she was going to ride to her grandparents house. Given Hannah lives in Bristol and her granparents 109 miles away in Reading, this is no mean feat for a 6 year old! Mum and dad were surprised but supportive and thought they may take the 10 day half term to do it. However Hannah completed the route in just 3 days, putting in two 44 mile days and raising over £2,000!

At this point I realise I’m talking with someone who has an in build enduarance plus the determination to get where she wants to go. It’s no wonder she’s already past the half way point on her LEJOG and doesn’t seem phased by the journey ahead.

 

Whilst many children may never even have heard about cycling LEJOG, because Rachel’s twin rode the route 10 years ago it was probably inevitable that at some point Hannah would want to emulate her Uncle Andrew. But in the Easter holidays of Year 8?? I wonder how she’s fitted in enough training over the dark winter months. Hannah explains that due to a mild Christmas holiday and February half term she managed to get in a few longer rides, including three back to back rides leading up to a 55 miler. This gave her the confidence to know that she could do long consecutive days on her bike.

School work plus all her other activities have meant there was little time during the term to do any other on-bike training. Because Hannah does some kind of exercise every day this has ensured she’s fit enough for the ride.

Dad got a turbo trainer for Christmas and has been clocking up the miles indoors, but Hannah confesses to only having been on it once – I get the feeling she much prefers to be outside!

I wonder if Dad has been struggling to keep up, and I know Hannah has been blogging about him drafting her most of the way. Adrian vigorously claims he’s not drafting, just riding behind to protect his daughter from traffic. This is an argument I often have with my 12 year old, and Hannah is rightfully proud that she’s doing all the hard work against the elements. It’s only when there’s a third adult riding with them (and both an aunt and uncle have joined them along the route for a day) that Hannah has been protected from the elements.

The obvious question to ask is what's been the worse bit so far, and Hannah instantly replies "The Hills in Devon" and proceeds to tell me how hard they were - with the descents being too short followed by more uphill.  I don't tell her about Shap Hill, which she's going to have to start climbing the moment she leaves Kendal.

It was good to see that she made it to the top!

The next obvious question is "What's been the best bit?" and for Hannah again this is a no-brainer. Seeing all the lambs en route!  From her blog I know she's been taking quite a few pictures.  I sense dad is getting a bit fed up with this, and he jokes he's set a limit of 10 photo stops and hour!

 

How to organise riding Lands End to John O’Groats in the school holidays

It’s obviously a logistical challenge organising such a long ride, and it was interesting to hear how the family have been doing this. The first stretch of their ride, Lands End back to their home in Bristol, had a very firm schedule.

Rachel had returned home with their 10 year old twins, as they had work and school. Hannah had taken a week out of school and Adrian been granted some unpaid leave from work in order to complete their challenge. They needed to be back at Hannah’s school for the Thursday morning, as the school was planning lots of activities to celebrate her ride (which you can read all about in her blog). Adrian split the route into roughly equal length chunks to coincide with towns, booking pubs and B&B’s in each location. All they had to do was ride far enough to ensure they got to their stopping point each evening.

With term over and the twins packed off to relatives for a holiday, Rachel has now picked up a camper van and is arranging camping spots along their route as they progress northwards.

This gives them more flexibility to decide how many miles they can manage each day, depending on the weather conditions and energy levels. The camper van also has the benefit of being a lot cheaper and flexible in terms of stocking up with food along the route.

On the topic of food, it appears pasta is the order of the day, with Hannah strongly advocating pasta and pesto as the food of choice for a 12 year old LEJOGer. Both she and Adrian overdosed on Jelly Babies and Haribo during their half term training and have now moved on to biscuits and mini eggs to keep them fuelled on their ride.

Choosing a quiet, safe LEJOG route suitable for a 12 year old

We all know the risks of riding with our children on the roads, especially when they get tired or are on unfamiliar territory, so I’m very interested to know how they’re deciding which route to ride. Adrian explains it’s a mix of several different routes, mainly inspired by the books Lands End to John O'Groats The Safer Way and others written by Royston G Wood together with scutinising their choices on Google Maps. The priority is obviously to find safe, low traffic routes and this often means making a slightly longer detour than the most direct LEJOG route, but this is well worth it to avoid the major roads.

However, this just doesn’t mean following the “Safe Route” as they’re learning to avoid anything that’s marked as being a traffic free cycle path but could be too muddy to keep up a decent pace. For this reason they’re now very cautious of canal tow paths and are being careful to check out entry/exit points to off road stretches.

What bike do you use to ride LEJOG as a 12 year old?

Obviously, the choice of bike and clothing for such a long journey is really important. Rachel explains they are lucky that Hannah is a very tall 12-year-old, meaning she can fit adult bikes and clothing which makes the choices wider.

Hannah Killick - a 12 year old riding Lands End to John O'Groats

Hannah is riding a Genesis Croix de Fer which they bought second hand as an all-purpose bike to allow her to do road riding, triathlon and cycle touring (as it has the ability to fit pannier and mudguards).

Adrian is riding a Dawes Super Academy Touring Bike. He’s chosen this over using his road bike and is pleased because he’s needed mudguards and panniers, which they are using to carry the various layers needed to keep warm and dry at various points throughout the day.

Both bikes had a full service several months ago and a quick check up before leaving and the only issue has been a gear cable that needed tightening in Manchester.

What do you wear when you’re riding LEJOG during April?

Both Hannah and Adrian are using DhB Rain defence bib leggings, which they highly recommend. They were kept reasonably dry and warm during a day of torrential rain, whilst poor Uncle Adrian got drenched.

The rest of their kit is made up of layers – with merino wool as a base. For wind and water proofing Hannah is using a Hump jacket – she fits the smallest women’s sizing and also has their gillet for warmer conditions. 

With the weather being so changeable this time of year they’re having to take layers on and off through out the ride, so dad is using panniers whilst Hannah carries her snacks and other essentials in an Ortleib handlebar bag.

Raising money whilst riding LEJOG

It’s important to remember that one of the main reasons Hannah wanted to do this challenge was to raise money for two charities close to her heart. The first is Bristol Children’s hospital Grand Appeal.

As well as being a keen sportswomen Hannah also plays three musical instruments (mum is a music teacher) and finds music really helps her relax and feel happy. She wanted to help other children feel the same, particularly those who are in hospital.

Rachel takes up the story, and explains it was important to them to find a charity that would spend the money Hannah raises on music therapy, rather than just adding to the general coffers. Bristol Children's Hospital were able to give the family that assurance, and Hannah will meet the members of staff she’s helping to fund when she arrives back home.

The second charity is one the family have been closely associated with through their school. United World Schools has build a school in Cambodia and again Rachel stressed the importance of the ethics behind the charity. Having had a long term involvement with them she is happy the funds will go towards Hannah’s chosen cause – training more new teachers. However, if Hannah raises significantly more money she also wants to support building a new sports pitch for the children.

The fact that people started to sponsor her as soon as she set up her fundraising page at Christmas has helped to spur Hannah on, and she’s hoping that now more people know she’s serious and has ridden over half way already they’ll dig deep and support her chosen causes.

The entire family is keen to express their thanks to everyone who has supported them thus far, both with donations as well as practical support.

Top tips for riding LEJOG in Year 8

Before Hannah and Adrian had to set off, I asked for their advice for any other families inspired by reading this article.

Hannah’s wise words are to do plenty of training (on and off the bike) and to eat LOTS of chocolate.
Adrian’s was to ensure you do your training on the bike you’re going to be riding and to keep cycling every day. Some people have expressed surprise they’re not taking a rest day, but Adrian says it’s easier to keep the legs moving, and to just do shorter distances if you’re feeling tired.

Finally, I ask Hannah how she’s going to celebrate when she gets to John O’Groats. Her response? “I’m getting dad’s old I-Phone 7!” Her eyes gleam with anticipation, and I wonder what lengths we could all get our children to ride if we bribe them with second hand technology!!!

If you’d like to support Hannah, you can donate here. You can follow her progress on Twitter @12-Lejog and read her blog here.

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