Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Land's End to John O Groats 2012

For the sheer amount of road-kill on England’s country roads, you would be forgiven for thinking that the nation is populated by lunatic drivers. This thought crossed my mind more than once as I weaved my bike’s wheels past the pitiful remains of some recently despatched creature. Long distance, multi-day riding certainly is the best way to get to experience a place, and if this means coming into close contact with ex-pheasants, hedgehogs, foxes and badgers, then so be it.
My reason for getting up close and personal with so much of Britain’s deceased wildlife was to participate in the Ubunye Challenge. Organised by my old friend Cameron Bellamy (an ex Capetonian living in London), this triathlon of continental proportions will see him cycle the length of England, swim the English Channel and row across the Atlantic Ocean. To the best of our knowledge, these epic feats have yet to be accomplished by one person within the space of one year, and Cameron hopes to be the first. Along the way he will raise money for the Angus Gillis foundation in the Eastern Cape, supporting early development in rural children.

About to face the headwind at Land's End
The cycle leg took place in late April to early May 2012, and saw two groups of riders (a 10 day group and a 7 day group) accompany Cameron from Land’s End in the South West to John O Groats in Scotland, a stone’s throw from the Orkney Islands. The total distance we covered over 7 days along this popular route was approximately 1400km - in weather ranging from screaming headwinds and driving rain (day 1) to merciful tailwinds and bright sunshine (day 7). Throw in snow, sleet, sunrises, sunsets, urban mazes, rural nirvana, streams, lakes, mountain passes, castles and beaches, and you have a short taste of what the trip was about.
And yet, the trip was about so much more… I have never bonded as much with my Giant TCR road bike as I did on those 7 wonderful days. It held up its end of the challenge beautifully and on many occasions I found myself sending grateful vibes to Jason Lind and the team at Olympic Cycles for uniting me with this fantastic machine.

Somewhere on the A7...
Make no mistake; the trip took its toll on all of the riders, and some of the bikes. There’s nothing like frozen rain (affectionately referred to by the Scottish as “sleet”) to work road grime into a bike’s more sensitive bits (not to mention the riders’!). By the end of day 5, I could barely see the individual links in my chain and my brake pads were carrying their own volume in oily black mud. I suffered 2 broken spokes and a bent rim, and my speedometer and right knee rattled themselves apart…

Coastal cycling nirvana in Scotland - looking back
Although none of the riders completed each kilometer, reaching the beach at John O Groats gave us all an undiminished sense of accomplishment and a lifetime of memories. Friendships were strengthened, bikes were celebrated and tired legs and clawed hands were given a chance to finally thaw. And while my physio tells me I shouldn't ride for 2 weeks (grumpy knee), thanks to the guys at Olympic Cycles my bike is looking as good as new and ready to hit the road on its next adventure.

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