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Easy East Coast LEJOG June 2022

Foolish thoughts and stupid ideas

The above was the title of an email I sent to 6 retired colleagues in July 2020. The first line encouraged them to read no further and ignore my suggestions. Almost 2 years later 4 of us with our partners will depart tomorrow morning for Penzance about to ride for 19 days and hopefully get to John O’Groats.

2 years ago mid pandemic, as Downing St partied, I was working in Intensive Care as a consultant. When allowed to exercise and to get away from the horrors of working 13 hour shifts in what looked like “Cheap Plastic Martian suits”, I would get on my road bike and cycle around the New Forest. As the miles racked up and retirement loomed for June 3rd 2022, I thought perhaps I should do LEJOG. My cycling experience was only a few hours per week in the summer months during the previous 10 years around the forest and none of us except Tom had ever undertaken a tour on this nature.

Unsurprisingly that first summer I received no replies and the following summer (2021) I resent the email, anticipating more silence. 2 weeks later whilst bemoaning the lack of any replies and having to do this solo to Kate my partner , she surprised me by saying she would keep me company on her Riese and Muller Charger 3. The very next day 2 colleagues and their partners replied expressing an interest.

I used https://cycle.travel thank you 

To plan the trip and decided after much reading to follow a version of their Easy East Coaster https://cycle.travel/route/lejog_east_coast

One couple and Kate are on electric bikes all Riese and Mullers, another on 2 Cannondale Synapses and lastly me on my Thorn Mercury (rohloff and 650b) which arrived last September. Tom the best cyclist of my colleagues offered to be a support driver having ridden Gibraltar to Portsmouth in his month off before returning to work after retiring a few years ago.

We decided to break the ride to Oakhampton into three stages rather than the suggested 2, meeting others on the way  they all agreed this was more sensible than there 2 day approach. Below are the accounts from Kate my partner, her writing is better and comes for a non cycling perspective.

Day 2 complete St Agnes to Camelford, 46 miles, 4 hours 57 minutes and 4175ft of uphill. The morning started in bright sunshine watching the surfers, children and dogs already playing on the beautiful beach. Alas as we were at sea level and had an immediate climb to 350 feet. Whose idea was it to be by the sea?! Seagulls, hedgerows and pretty villages festooned with bunting left over from the Jubilee and then a 5 mile (!!) detour to see the poppy fields near Crantock. Absolutely beautiful and ( almost) worth the extra miles. Up until this point I still felt enthusiastic- sun, wind behind us. Alas first mizzle then torrential rain dampened this, together with relentless hills. Down then up then down and up again. No flat terrain at all. These felt like mountains to me, but Ravi assured me these are only hills, and the only mountains we will encounter are in Scotland. Whoppee doo! Got those to look forward to. The Camel trail despite being described as easy still felt uphill to me. Just when we thought we were almost there, several particularly nasty hills, including a 20% hill. Apparently Cornwall and Devon are the toughest part. Easy after this!

Day 3 finally finished - cycling bit at least. Last night we were so tired we chose not to go into Camelford - a 1 mile walk -and had dinner in the Golf Club where we were staying. It has been quite hard to find B & Bs that will take us for just one night. Back to our room in time for Spring Watch with Tom Major featuring his Aesculapian snakes in North Wales - he is almost our son in law, Maya’s partner, so this was very exciting. During the programme they showed a map of the UK- and for the first time I had a look at where John O’Groats is - right up at the top, a long way away. This has been a bit of a Magical Mystery Tour for me, as I have no idea where I have been or where I am going. The ostrich approach serves me well, as if I had know what I had agreed to one year ago, I would never have done it. I overheard that we are doing 60 miles tomorrow, but again I am promised less hills and good weather. Alas today we went from Cornish Mizzle to Devonshire drizzle, wet all day. As we crossed the River Tamar and left Cornwall behind, we hoped the hills might get easier, but Devon greeted us with an enormous climb. The wind seemed always to be in front of us or at the side, although Ravi in his optimistic way assured me it was behind us part of the way. Wherever it was it was very gusty and blowing hard at times. Today I double chamoised as my sit bones were sore. During ”training” I actually had black and blue bruises on my sitbones, so thought I would try the double chamois- which works well until I had to go for a wild wee. Double lycra chamois act like a physio band around the knees, and that combined with the necessity to find a nice downhill part so as not to get wet sandals and wearing waterproof trousers, as well as not being able to squat as well as I did when I was 16, makes it exceedingly tricksy. As all good athletes know you also have to check how concentrated your wee is, so I ended up looking like I was in some peculiar yoga pose with my head between my knees. Ravi’s blog is full of the route we have taken and the ascents we have done, but for me wild weeing is much more important! 46.8 miles, 4 hours 19 minutes of peddling and 3877 feet ascent from Camelford to Oakhampton. Tomorrow on to Taunton and then Bristol. Unimaginable.

Day 4- Okehampton to Taunton, 63.8 miles, 3833 feet ascent and riding time was 5 hours 31 minutes- however, we left at 8.15am and arrived in Taunton at 5.15pm- 9 hours in total, as a little blip in the middle as Ravi lost his phone and he and Gareth had to retrace our path to find it - Find My Phone came up trumps, and some lovely person had put it on a wall, and not taken the £20 note and credit card!

This is the longest, and fastest paced ride I have ever done, and I am exhausted. 2 miles in after an immediate hill, my inner thighs began to hurt. 2 hours later my anterior shin muscles joined the party. Not sure where they had been for the last few days, as all my other leg muscles have been aching since Tuesday. Cycling for long stretches with no distractions allows for a lot of thinking, as well as enjoying the beautiful countryside. Particularly pondering why I agreed to do this in a moment of weakness. Almost exactly a year ago I had an Atrial Flutter / Fibrillation ablation, a 5 hour operation where, as Ravi so wonderfully puts it, they microwaved my heart to ablate the abnormal areas causing my heart to do tumble turns and flip flops. The whole thing was not a life limiting or shortening experience, but was very surreal, and caused me to reflect that life doesn’t always go on as normal, and that we only have a very limited time. Hence agreeing to cycle over 1000 miles. However, at the top of every hill I am always a little relieved to find my heart beating fast in normal sinus rhythm. I am, however, cycling with 2 Cardiac Anaesthetists and a nurse, so I am sure if anything cardiac happened I would be in good hands!

Devon gave way to Somerset, and the sun came out. Hedgerows were not as high, and we had glorious views. Most of our ride is on small roads and bike paths, and today we cycled along the Great Western Canal for a lovely flat interlude. Swans and cygnets, and people just enjoying the sunshine and the water. The other past time I have as we are cycling along is noticing what else is trying to cross the path - beetles, slugs, snails, and today 2 mice as well as ducks and rabbits. Their journey across the path must be a similar journey to this - but much more dangerous. I do wonder why they decide to try. Today with the sunshining the flies were out in force. After eating 2 flies, which as a long time vegetarian is upsetting, I learnt to keep my mouth shut. However, they still seem to get tangled up in my hair, in my eyes and one up my nose. I did wonder if they count as added protein, as I know I am supposed to increase my protein intake on this trip to make up for damaged muscle tissue.

Beginning to realise the challenge we have taken on. Tomorrow we are off to Bristol and Izzy and Greg’s house, and then a day of rest. Joy!

Day 5 Taunton to Bristol, 62 miles, 5 hours 42 riding time and 1921 ascent. Arrived at Izzy and Greg’s in Bristol, and greeted by Rusty our dog- slightly confused as to why her mum and dad are in her holiday home! Drinking prosecco celebrating the first leg of our journey. Bristol greeted us with music and life, such a change to the sleepy villages we have been gong through.

Last night I was feeling quite low, and doubting if I am fit enough to carry on, as I was so exhausted. After a good night’s sleep I felt a lot better this morning, and the added incentive of staying in a home with a day off tomorrow, I felt enthusiastic for the day to come. Staying in Bed and Breakfasts every day gets a bit draining, but I have to say is better than camping!

Beautiful day, sunshine all the way, started off by the canal and then along the Strawberry Line cycle path. This morning I can positively say that I was enjoying myself. I have realised that I can combine cycling with my other favourite hobby of looking at houses and peeking into living rooms and front gardens. Going just slow enough to get a good look, and fast enough not to look rude! When Ravi and I are on holiday, we always play a game where we decide which house we would buy - on this trip there is plenty of choice, with cottages with beautiful sounding names, Myrtle Cottage, Strawberry Farm. Not choosing yet, as a castle in Scotland may take my fancy!

During the ride I asked Ravi if I looked like a cyclist. He answered quite predictably ”You’re on a bike Kate”. Yes indeed I am, but I have a slight imposter syndrome as I am on an E Bike, and everyone else are on gravel / hybrid bikes. I am however carrying all the bike tools and very heavy bike locks, and a spare battery. My bike is a Riese and Muller Charger and weighs 25 kgs unladen, so I figure that being in Eco mode is equivalent. The last few days I have had to change to my spare battery, and have been in ECO mode 60 to 70% of the time. Today for me I had a minor achievement and had 25% of my battery left, and was in ECO for 85% of the time, and 15% Tour, the next level up. Definitely feel like I am improving, and I must be doing something right, as I have arrived in Bristol with my knee intact and only slightly swollen.

I love my Ebike and as you might have noticed from the photos it is reddy orange, and I only agreed to do this if I could be colour coordinated- hence the orange helmet, and I have an orange top. Can’t believe I just said that I love my bike - things must be improving- day off tomorrow, and sauna, plunge pool and hot tub! Life is good…

Day 6, rest day! I remembered today one of the reasons I agreed to do this - to lose weight before Izzy and Greg’s wedding in August. On the scales this morning and alas I have put on weight. I would like to think it is all muscle, but I fear the 500 calorie flap jacks and B & B breakfasts, as well as eating out every night might be the cause.

In response to all the comments about E bikes, there have been some who have accused me of cheating- the road bike gazelles who go past at 100 miles per hour. Usually when they are told that I have had a knee replacement, they acknowledge it might be fair enough.

Groin inspections have continued today, even on a rest day. This is a daily ritual, and after 36 years of being together is both a little weird and hilarious. Any sore spots are treated with sudocrem, which works wonders. I had thought my sudocrem days were behind me (excuse the pun) or indeed in front of me, if I ever have grandchildren (!!).

Today we had a wonderful rest day. This morning we went to a spa morning at Grow Wilder in Bristol- sauna, cold plunge and hot tub. Ravi and I were at least 30 years older than most people there and distinctly over dressed in our swim suits, but it was just what we needed. Legs felt so much better after. After a few rounds of each, and when so many beautiful people arrived to make it too busy, we retreated into the round house to listen to harp and guitar music. Absolute bliss - I almost forgot that we still have 14 more days of riding to go. Ravi spoilt the tranquility by pointing out that by the time we get to York we will be just over half way there. Oh good grief. Tomorrow I have absolutely no idea where we are going, but we will get there. Ravi studies the maps every evening, and looks at the ascents. Honestly, it is best not to know. 

Day 7, Bristol to Pershore, 69.9 miles, 2749 feet altitude and 5 hours 55 minutes, the furthest I have ever cycled. I was slightly tearful as we left Izzy and Rusty, our Goldendoodle. Can’t believe it will be a few weeks before we see them again. Izzy and Greg looked after us so well. I woke up yesterday with a sore throat and blocked nose, and she gave me Echinacea throat spray, Garlic, ginger and lemon to drink (disgusting) and made me gargle salt water. I tested myself last night, and was negative for covid - not sure if I was relieved or disappointed, as a postive result would surely have been a good excuse to head home. I also managed to pull an intercostal muscle getting out of bed - a very dangerous activity! Last week Ravi struggled with a chest infection, and today I was definitely not firing on all cylinders.

We left Bristol and headed for Berkley castle, where Edward 2nd was killed with a red hot poker - I will leave it to your imagination as to how. We had coffee in a lovely tea room, where we met 3 Australian women from Sydney. They were cycling from Redruth in Cornwall to John O’Groats fully laden with all their stuff, taking a month, slightly longer than us. One fellow cyclist there promised that the further north we get, the easier it becomes. I am happy to believe him.

From there on through Avon to Gloucestershire, with undulating hills and beautiful villages. Along several canals, and then the River Severn. Detoured slightly to see Gloucester cathedral, which is magnificent. From there to Tewksbury for another all important detour for an ice cream. Definitely helped improve my mood, as by then I was flagging. On into Worcestershire - 3 counties in one day.

These long days are helped by beautiful views and interesting cottages. It becomes really hard when there are long stretches all the same. Today was very warm - quite glad in retrospect that there was mizzle and drizzle in Cornwall and Devon, as the hills in this heat would have been even harder.

During the difficult times today I tried singing - the choir I am part of at home got together on Sunday, and sent me a recording of my favourite song - Bumbaleyla. I love it, partly as we get to sing the word Bum - my inner child comes out. I love words beginning with B. It also means Never Give Up, which helps enormously when I have found it hard going.

Tomorrow the Magical Mystery Tour continues, with another long day. I think we are going to be level with Birmingham by the end of tomorrow. Mind boggling.

Day 8, Pershore to Atherstone, 61.8 miles, 5 hours 16 minutes cycling time, 3033 feet of ascent, still in Warwickshire but above Coventry and Birmingham.

This morning I had porridge with marmalade. It is amazing how many new experiences there are post 60! Our morning routine includes a quick 7 minute Yoga Boost with Adriene, a standing yoga which we have managed to do in every B & B room with very little space. We stand with her in the Super hero pose, hands on hips, shoulders back, shouting with her “I will rise to my full potential”. Then onto the guerilla pose, which is wonderful to loosen everything up.

Mornings we get up an hour earlier than breakfast in order to try and repack in some sort of order all the carnage spread all over the room from the evening before, where we have just collapsed into the room. After breakfast is the serious stuff - chamois cream. Absolute nightmare. Ravi splodges his on, but I try and gently rub it in, which is apparently not necessary, as it spreads all over once you sit on it. The cream is applied to both the skin and the chamois, and in doing so seems to go everywhere, and I end up with white spoldges all over everything I am wearing. It feels very cold, and always makes me immediately want to go to the toilet, which of course I have just done pre creaming. I was caught out again this morning. Ravi tells me it is the menthol. Perhaps we should change to a different flavour. During the day the chamois cream has the effect of glueing everything together, and continues to feel cold. I have no idea if it works or not, but somehow don’t want to risk not using it in case it does work. In the evening it is such a relief to wash it all off.

Today was a beautiful day, blue skies with lots of exquisite clouds. I have discovered another joy of cycling - cloud spotting. I like to find patterns in the clouds, as I know a lot of people enjoy as well. Today I kept seeing the Starship Enterprise, possibly hoping it would beam me up. I realised pretty quickly that I have to pay attention to the road, and the other cyclists while doing this - can’t keep looking up.

Another interesting past time is looking at place and road names. There are so many Church Lanes, and Station Roads in lots of towns and villages we have been through. The winners of the day have to be Phil Collins Way (!) and Dirty Lane. We went through so many beautiful villages today, with some gorgeous houses. Lunch was Dorset Flapjack - Ravi had Banofee flavour and I had Raspberry - sitting by the river watching a couple dancing to a busker in Stratford Upon Avon. Magic. After lunch it was more hilly and harder going, but we passed through Meriden, The historic centre of England. This seemed very exciting, as during the day we went over the M42, and were 4 miles from Warwick and near Solihull- all places we have been in the car and thought it was a long way away.

We encountered our first road idiot - cycling on B roads is generally much more enjoyable than the A roads, with cars constantly zooming past. However, some of them of course are quite narrow, but usually there is enough space for us and a car. On one road a car drove straight towards Gareth, and only pulled away at the last second. He honestly thought he was going to be killed. Horrid.

You might suspect that I am beginning to enjoy myself, and have some belief that I can do this - getting this far seems remarkable. My legs have stopped hurting quite so much- last week I could hardly sleep at night as they were aching. The rest day and feeling a little stronger have really helped, as has the sunshine. May this continue!

PS Tom and Celeste joined us for the first few miles on their tandem. They are our invaluable support team.

Day 9, Atherstone to Southwell, North of Nottingham, 55.6 miles, 4 hours and 46 minutes of cycling and 2070 feet of ascent. The others enthusiastically described this as a short day. Before starting this for me it would have been a record breaking day, and every time the last few miles always seem the hardest, even if it is a shorter day. My sat nav on my bike, which is a Nyon, spent the first week telling me to turn round. It felt like it was echoing my mental state and telling me to go home. Ravi turned off the re routeing, but now when I don’t go the way it wants me to, it sulks and gives up completely. Ravi is using a Wahoo with Komoot, and Gareth Komoot on his phone, and this tells them not only the number of miles completed but how many are left to do. I feel like a child constantly asking “Are we there yet” towards the end, wanting to know how many more miles left. My reasoning is whether I need to change my battery - I am carrying a spare from Ravi’s E bike. Distance is a funny thing, a bit like the number of light years to the sun, or Milo explaining how far away the white Dwarf or Black Hole he is studying are - I can’t quite get my head around it. I can’t imagine 55 miles in my head. I have to break it down into manageable portions - I know it takes me just under an hour to cover 10 miles, our circuit at home. When I ask how much further, I find being told that we are just over half way more helpful than we have 30 miles to go, as it seems more do able.

Last night we stayed in the nicest place so far, and had a fabulous meal. We sat outside in the sunshine for a drink and all was fantastic. Alas, during the meal I started to feel unwell again, pyrexial, and went to bed completely bunged up with a sore throat. Again I tested negative for covid - yes we brought some tests with us!

The beautiful chapel we had so admired when we arrived unfortunately chimed on the hour and half hour. I counted 10, 11 and midnight - 1, 2 and 3 am chimes didn’t wake me, but alas 4, 5, 6 and 7 did. It was right outside our window. As a consequence this morning I was definitely not feeling great. If I had been feeling like this before we started, I would not have come, but now I have got this far I am determined to keep going. Ravi uses the expel and flick method, which is very unpleasant if riding behind him. For this reason he is at the back, and also so that he can shepherd us along. He tells me that all proper cyclists do this. Even if I had practiced this at home, I am not sure I would be able to do it, so I am obviously an improper cyclist, as all of my pockets are full of tissues - and lip balm, an essential piece of kit.

Today we left Atherstone and went through some beautiful villages- my favourite so far is Tawny Hollow in Sheepy Magda. What an exquisite address. Other great sounding names were Congostone, and Zouch, as we arrived in Nottinghamshire. Gotham village obviously makes the most of it’s batman connection, with signs all over. After Gotham it was tougher going, on the outskirts of Nottingham, lots of cars, and even along the canal it was built up and hard.

Tomorrow we have an 85 mile ride- unimaginable, but I will take it one bit at a time and hope my cold is better tomorrow. Best not to think about it! You gotta roll with it!

Day 10, cycle ride 9, Southwell to York, 87.1miles, 7 hours and 1 minute in the saddle, average speed 12.4 and ascent 1857 feet. Absolutely plum tuckered. World record for me, and apparently almost half way to John O’Groats. Ravi suggested we carry on for another few miles to get to the 100 mile mark in a day. I don’t think so!

Arrived covered in dust, sweat and sun cream, and surprisingly flies - they seem to get stuck on my skin. I can feel them as I am going along wiggling about- particularly peculiar sensation in my eyebrows. I am also covered in bruises. Heleen Charlton cycles with grace and beauty, and with a confidence of someone who has been cycling their whole life - she was brought up in Holland. She mounts and dismounts beautifully- I am behind her, so have plenty of time to watch and learn. I on the other hand put my right foot on the peddle and sort of hop along with my left foot until I have enough momentum, straddling the bike. I realised after a few days that I am bruising my inner left shin with the peddle by doing this, and have cut myself a few times on it. I now have an even wider stance to try and avoid this, which makes me look even more awkward, but my legs are still covered in bruises. I have made a mental note to practice and improve my mounting and dismounting - at present this involves a sort of shuddering collapse. Definitely feel I have a lot to learn. Heleen is also the only one of us who doesn’t have a mirror on her bike, as she can look over her shoulder without wobbling all over the place.

Today was hard - made more so by my cold, which is affecting both my sinuses and chest. However, I have noticed that there is something almost meditative about cycling, legs going round and round, and the beautiful English countryside rolling along, that apart from the constant nose blowing, it became trance like. Every now and then my trance was broken by an enormous sneeze - sneezing on a bike is quite an art. The world is blue and beautiful and then suddenly black, as of course you have to close your eyes to sneeze. I have to concentrate very hard on keeping the bike going in the right direction as the force of the sneeze makes me wiggle. Realised this could be quite dangerous on a major road. Hazards of cycling with a cold.

Lots to say about where we were last night, but have to go now as we are all going out to dinner to celebrate Richard and Debbie arriving in York. They have got over their Covid, and are due to start cycling with us on the next half of our journey.

I have included a picture of my Bosch Nyon readout as I can’t quite believe it myself that I have cycled 87.1 miles!

Rest day tomorrow in York, time for me to have a Fat Rascal and recuperate. Thank you for all your supportive messages.

Day 11, rest day in York and hot hot hot! We won the Euro lottery on Tuesday, but Ravi forgot to tell us until yesterday. We started it on our first night, and dreamed that if we won we would buy a helicopter to fly us up to John O’Groats. Alas £2.60 won’t get us very far.

My E bike yesterday had a little temper tantrum and kept turning itself off. At the prospect of having to finish the cycle with no power, I experienced a little psycho somatic knee pain, which quickly resolved once we managed to get it to work aqain. Small panic, and this resulted in a ridiculous conversation between Ravi and I, him offering to organise a train from York home for the two of us, and me saying that if I give up he should still continue, as it was originally his dream. He then said he would not go on without me, so I vowed not to give up either. What a ridiculopathy!

We contacted Bournemouth Cycleworks where we bought the bike and had the Nyon fitted, and they put us in touch with York Cycleworks This morning they checked it all over, and everything is fine. They suggested that it might happen when the battery is taken out before the Nyon is switched off. It is a relief to know that it should get me to Scotland. They also mended the front mudguard stay clip, which Ravi had broken when doing maintenance on it in Bristol. My mudguard had been rattling more than me with all the paracetamol, ibuprofen, antihistamines and antibiotics I am taking. He tried to tighten it up and it broke, and has spent the week being held together with duck tape.

A quick mention of Southwell Cathedral - an absolute gem. We had a magical walk around the cathedral, enjoying the organ recital from inside. Next to it are the ruins of the Archbishop’s Palace. We thought of Frances O'Connor and all the beautiful photos she might take - I did my best!

Yesterday’s ride took us past signposts to Sheffield, Doncaster, Pontefract and Leeds - all places we normally drive through. The landscape was flat - although I think Ravi’s definition of not hilly is subjective. Fields of barley and wheat, and big skies. 3 enormous power stations contrasted with the elegance and beauty of wind turbines. Lots of houses here have solar panels, and it certainly felt like there was a lot of sunshine. When we were on the A19 for a brief few minutes, I saw a sign for York, 21 miles. We quickly turned off and in fact had 35 miles to go. We seem to zigzag our way across county, along B roads, canals, old train lines and paths, sometimes overgrown with stinging nettles which catch at bare arms and legs. We are obviously taking the long route, but more scenic - and more pot holes! We eventually got onto the Pennine trail cycle way, and I had a momentary panic, before I realised the Pennines were in the other direction.

Today we have had a fabulous day - sorted my bike out, walked the York walls - and saw a red squirrel - and a quick tour around York Minster, then had lunch and a Fat Rascal in Betty’s tea rooms (thank you Jo Helas!). Ravi treated himself to a glass of champagne in celebration of the almost halfway mark, as well as a new Liberty tie from one of the many gorgeous shops in York - definitely a place to visit again.

Tomorrow we start our ascent towards Scotland via Newcastle, Alnwick Castle where Harry Potter was filmed, Lindisfarne and Bamburgh Castle in the Northeast. Beginning to get excited, but taking it one day at a time..…

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