How did you spend New Year? Chances are you spent it inside in the warm, perhaps with friends or family, and hopefully with plenty of food and drink. Not so for three adventure cyclists, who set out on Friday 29th December to attempt to ride unsupported from Lands End to John O’Groats in just 4 days. Yes – that’s 870 miles in less than 96 hours, in the dark, wind, rain, sleet and snow! They did it to raise money for a homeless charity (Social Bites), to help people who have no choice but to be out in the terrible weather at this time of year (and also because they’re in training for some even longer events in 2018).
I happen to know one of these crazy cyclists – Emily Chappell – so when she emailed me at the start of December to ask if I knew of anyone in the Kendal area who could put them up at the end of their second day of cycling, I wasn’t about to say “no”!
That is how the Cycle Sprog household found ourselves caught up in the excitement of a long distance cycling attempt, trying to answer questions* such as “How much pasta do you need after cycling 220 miles?” “How long will it take to cycle from Gloucester to Kendal?” and “Do you think they’ll want porridge for breakfast?”
The three cyclists were:
- Emily Chappell – the fastest women to complete the 2016 Transcontinental Race (and a former London cycle courier)
- Jenny Graham (endurance mountain biker, fastest woman in the Highland Trail 550
- Huw Oliver (also a very long distance mountain biker)
They were attempting to ride from Lands End to Gloucester on the Friday, Gloucester to Kendal on Saturday, Kendal to north of Perth on Sunday (New Years Eve) and then the last stage up to John O’Groats on New Years Day. This co-incided with a couple of snow falls and Storm Dylan.
We found ourselves glued to their tracker, watching their progress as they headed north. On the first night I went to bed about midnight and they were still on the road. When I woke the next morning they were already riding – next stop our house!!!
We stocked up on all the essentials required by long distance cyclists – pasta, pasta and pasta for tea.
Fuel to carry for the next stage of their ride included malt loaf, pepperoni, cheese, nuts, cereal bars, and sweets.
Once their beds were made and all our bikes hidden away to make room for their arrival, it was time to sit back and wait. News came through on Twitter that Huw had a problem with his bike – did anyone have any SRAM 11 Speed jockey wheel? Thankfully a temporary repair meant he could continue, but it might not last all the way to John O’Groats.
I put the call out to Kendal Cycle Club and several members tried to help out, but no-one had the exact same one. Then Chris had a brainwave – he’d just made up a new mountain bike for the eldest Sprog – perhaps the mountain bike jockey wheels would fit. Only time would tell….
The Sprogs were exhausted and went to sleep, and we remained glued to the tracker. We watched the dot travel north – past Chorley, Preston, Garstang, Lancaster (where it stopped for an emergency coffee break). Then on north past Morecambe – well past midnight by this time. Our phone started to go crazy as some of Kendal CC club members prepared to ride out to Carnforth to accompany them on the final stage, and several more joined them for the final push into Kendal and up the big hill to our house, arriving just after 1.30am on New Years Eve.
The next hour and a half was spent sorting out wet clothes, getting all their electrical equipment charged up – phones, trackers, bike lights – and of course plying them with hot food and drinks.
Thankfully the mountain bike jockey wheel fitted Huw’s bike and after this emergency repair it was time for them to grab a few hours sleep.
Their alarms went off at 6.30am and it was incredible to watch how quickly they got up, dressed, breakfasted (with the days first caffeine hit) and out on the road.
With each rider responsible for their own kit and bike, it made me realize how long it takes to get out the house with two kids in tow!!
In just over 30 minutes they were back on the road – heading north towards Scotland, and storm Dylan.
About quarter of an hour later Chris realised Jenny’s insoles were still drying on our radiator.
He leapt in the car and caught up with them for a quick handover. And that was the last we saw of them in the flesh!
And so we were back to watching the dot on the tracker, heading northwards. At times we could see them making good progress, at others we knew times were tough. When we went to bed on New Years Day they were oh so close to John O’Groats, and I calculated they would definitely make it within the 4 days, if they continued at the same pace.
What I didn’t know was that as I slept they’d encountered icy highland roads, and their speed had really dropped. The tracker never recorded their final position each night (presumably for security purposes), so the next morning we could see they’d got within about 3 miles of John O’Groats, with a little bit of time to spare. Had they made it? It was an agonizing wait until after they’d woken up and the messages started coming through.
Holy saddle sores batman, we made it! The eagle landed at 5 this morning, wrapping up 4 days, 870 miles and 67 hours spent on the bikes. It was a long cold night, but a full moon, clear skies and team karaoke got us there. Thanks so much to everyone that helped us, rode with us or sent love along the way, it’s been outstanding and you’re all bloody lovely. If you need me I will be asleep. #lejogmanay hogmanaylejog #adventurebybike #lejog #happynewyear #festive #festive500 #hopetech #revelatedesigns #warbird #socialbite #endurance #getoutside #optoutside #outsideisfree #newyear #bikepacking
At the time of writing, they’d raised over £4,000 for Social Bites. If you’d like to add to that total, then please donate through their Just Giving page.
*The answers, if you’re interested are:
- Not as much pasta as you’d think – they were eating and then sleeping straight away, so only got through about 500g between them
- Just over 18 hours from Gloucester to Kendal
- No porridge – croissants were the food of choice, as they can be stuffed into pockets for eating on the road!
Afterword: It wasn’t until later in 2018 that we found out that Jenny Graham had been using this ride as a test to see if she was capable of riding round the world! On 18th October 2018 she became the fastest woman to cycle round the world unsupported, in a time of 124 Days, 10 hours and 50 minutes.
Other posts you may find interesting:
- Scottish Island Hopping – a family cycling holiday
- How we became a mountain biking family in just one year
- Family cycling holiday along the River Danube
- Family mountain biking in Bend, Oregon
- Cycling Coast to Coast in Cornwall with kids
- Riding Lands end to John O’Groats when you’re 12 years old