When Gethin asked me, a few months ago, whether I would like to join him and some other bike riders on a John O’Groats to Land’s End bike ride, my first reaction was something along the lines: “Are you crazy? I couldn’t do anything like that, not with you club guys. I’d be left far behind every day, even if I attempted to take part.” Well, that was towards the end of 2012 and I agreed to give it a go – it’s not easy to say “no” to Gethin. I trained about three times per week during the winter months on my turbo trainer in our garage and I remember explaining to our nine year old great niece that I was in training for a very long-distance bike ride. Her reaction was: “How big is your garage?”
I was determined to work hard when the good weather came – I didn’t want to let Gethin or the rest of the team down – and I put in about 1500 miles of bike riding: lots of 50s, a few 100s and in early July two days of about 90 miles each. That is as far as I got before our holiday in France in the middle of July. I think that I had done my best to prepare and I purchased a new bike from a new bike shop, Dynamic Rides in Hockley Heath near Birmingham. The guys in the bike shop did a great job measuring me and preparing my new bike for the task ahead.
I have to admit that I was very anxious and nervous at the start on Sunday 21st of July in the presence of a professional-looking group of experienced club riders. At least I looked the part, what with my fancy Santini kit and swish new Colnago bike. As I suspected, it was clear from the outset that I was slower than the rest of the group. At the end of the first three days though, my average was higher than my usual average when I am out on my bike on my own. I guess that being at the back end of the group and trying to keep in touch increased my average, on that flat anyway – ascending and descending was a different story.
I seemed to get stronger as the days went by and the huge pain in my thighs went away after three or four days. That was a relief as I thought that I would not be able to stand the pain for any more days. Also, I seemed to find some climbing legs a few days in and could manage the long, relatively less steep climbs with some ease: it was stuff that kicked up to 13 % that defeated me at the start and, to some extent, at the end in Devon. My climbing seemed to improve by the half-way stage of the ride and I think that I did reasonably well judging by the “well done Dave” that I got when I toiled up yet another hill to join the group waiting at the top. For some reason, I gained the handle “dynamo Dave” or was it “dynamic Dave” after a few days and Steve gave me a mention at the dinner after we finished, for “the most improved rider”. I really appreciated that and I really appreciated the group waiting for me at the top of climbs.
My overall assessment is that I grew stronger and more confident as the days went by. I found that I could ride relatively quickly on the flat, over 20 miles per hour on average when called for on some of the main roads. Largely due to my various eye conditions, I don’t have the bravery, the confidence or, to be frank, the vision to go very fast downhill – I have to take it very cautiously – and I was the slowest going uphill. So, I could almost hold my own on the flat with the group that I found myself in for most of the trip, but was the slowest ascending and descending.
Changing the subject, I did like the official Y.H.A. hostels, in particular those that offered breakfast. We could get our kit dry in these places. I particularly liked the hostel where there was a little shelf on the wall by one’s bunk; there was a light and somewhere to plug in one’s ‘phone charger. A really neat idea. There seemed to be plenty of showers and toilets in the Y.H.A. hostels. We arrived wet in a few places, so it was good to know that our bikes were safely locked away and that our kit was drying out overnight.
I want to take this opportunity to give a massive thank you to all of the team for looking out for me, for looking after me and for encouraging me: everyone played their part. In particular, I want to thank Gareth for looking out for me during some of the time he rode with us. A very special mention goes to Gethin who was constantly at my side (or just ahead or just behind) on ascents and, in particular, descents. It must have been mind-numbingly boring for Gethin, hanging at the back for hours on end. I tried to get him to move up ahead but he refused.
I spent many hours on the road with our group: this suited me down to the ground in that dividing up into two groups was fine by me. Thus, I spent a lot of time with Steve and Will on the road and great companions they turned out to be. I was determined not to let Jason out of my sight, given that he had the ways and means to find our way. We didn’t go wrong once. It was also good to have Martin in our group from time to time, particularly when he was recovering from being poorly.
I want to give a special mention to Martin and Jason for looking out for me and encouraging me. Martin was at my side all through the suburbs of Glasgow, at each junction and at each set of traffic lights and both Martin and Jason encouraged me to keep going up the hills. At the top of one hill, I found myself slumped over my bars. Jason put a hand on my shoulder: “Well done Dave, you need an energy gel.” Such kindness and encouragement was a massive boost and kept me going, particularly when I was having a bad morning on the bike somewhere in Devon I think, where we had a lot of climbing to do. Big men, big-hearted, top blokes.
There is more that I could post here. However, I only mean this post to be a relatively brief blog that gives me the opportunity to thank everyone for having me, putting up with me, encouraging me and bigging me up. (I feel proud of “the most improved rider” tag.) I could not have completed this huge bike ride without the help and encouragement of everyone concerned: thanks guys. Now that it is all over, I can hardly believe what we have achieved. Now that I am at home, lots of people have congratulated me and the team for what we have done for the charities. I caught myself looking at a map of the UK a couple of days ago: I won’t look at it in the same light as I used to. I found myself whispering to myself: “We rode from there to there!”
If I can read my daily diary notes that I tried to make before I fell asleep each night, I plan to write a longer blog and put it on my own website. When I have got round to this, I will post a link to it if anyone is interested in reading my longer blog.
The end of the ride seemed to happen too quickly, but didn’t we have a great reception from families, friends and lots of other people who just happened to be at Land’s End when we rode in after ten and a half days and over 900 miles of riding?
I’ve managed a smile.
The distance measured by my bike computer.
Thanks go to Annette for 40 years of marriage and
for all of your support.
A huge thank you to all of the team and to Ray our
Twenty thirteen has been an interesting year for me. I have been retired from the university for three years and, during 2013, I have self-published my first novel (and made £45 royalties – wow!) and ridden an expensive bike from John O’Groats to Land’s End. I can hardly believe what has happened. It couldn’t have been a dream: I have the ‘photos (above) to prove it.
Well done to all of us and a big thanks to our wives, families and friends for supporting us and for donating to the charities.
Dave Etheridge, Solihull, Warwickshire, Wednesday 7th August 2013.