LEJoG day 9 – Sticky situation

I was up early today and out on my bike by 0830 – waving goodby to Aussie Mike and Kev who I ate with last night. The plan was to cycle up and over the Galloway Forest National Park, on to Troon and Irvine before getting to Ardrossan to catch the ferry to Arran. If I made good time, I’d be able to get the 1515 ferry. Failing that, the last ferry was 1800. If I missed that, I’d be sleeping on the beach.

I was only 8 miles in and my back tyre went down. I pulled into a lay-by on the A road and mended the puncture. As I was getting my hands dirty anyway, I also took the opportunity to take the tyre off the front to remove a small piece of grit I’d noticed yesterday but couldn’t be bothered to do anything about.

With the punctures repaired, I set about putting the tyres back on. They were so tight it was impossible to get the tyres back on the rims! After ages, I managed to get both tyres on. However, as soon as I pumped the front up, it developed another puncture! Back to square 1: remove tyre, replace tube and struggle to get the tyre back on the rim again. By the time I’d finished, I’d used every swear word under the sun – as well as a few new ones that the OED can add to their next edition. This tyre debacle took 1 hour 40 minutes. Ridiculous.

This therefore put me behind my plan to catch the 1515 ferry as I still had about 50 miles to do – including two big ascents. These climbs came next. A long drag up through a beautiful valley in the Galloway forest up to about 1,300ft. By this time, my gears had started slipping, so it was difficult to find a comfortable gear for the climb. It was either knee-poppingly hard or spinning my legs like roadrunner. I opted for the latter option – my cadence averaging about 100 on the uphill.

The climb was worth it for the descent though! A long, fast twisty road clinging to the hillside with only a crash barrier to my left. The only thing that slowed me down were a few sharp bends with loose gravel and the potholes which were strategically placed to throw me off my racing line.

Once down it was time to go up again. I went through a “Road Closed” sign and up a long drag with stunning views either side. At the top, I met Aussie Mike who couldn’t believe that he was there before me (I sheepishly explained the tyre issue). He’d lost his mate Kev and was trying to get a mobile signal to call him.

Once over the top of this hill, the descent was even better. The road had recently been laid, so I flew down on pristine Tarmac. No potholes, no loose gravel, no silly white lines to tell you which side of the road to be on. I was flying down until my tyres started making a funny swishy sound and I started to slow down. I rounded a bend and, without braking, I slowed even more. Then I saw in front of me the workmen laying the new road. I came to a stop, looked behind me to see two bike-tryre width grooves in the freshly-laid Tarmac. Oops!

The workmen hurried me past on the verge. Once past. I set off on the old surface but my tyres had picked up a thick layer of tar and all the loose grit was now sticking to it! I thought I could just cycle the tar off the tyres, but it was stuck fast! What’s more, it made my tyres adhesive so not only were they picking up the loose stuff, my tyres were actually sticking to the road! It was like cycling through treacle.

A few miles on, I passed a car wash and tried to remove the tar with a scrubbing brush. I cycled on. It was only another 25 very sticky miles later that the worst of the tar had come off.

The afternoon’s ride took me past the famous golf courses at Turnberry and Troon and Prestwick airport. I eventually got to Ardrossan port to buy my ticket at about 1630 – just as a ferry was leaving. This ferry was an additional summer service but it didn’t appear on any timetable I’d seen. If I’d known, I would have caught it easily.

In the end, I got the 1800 ferry, which got me to Arran at 1900. It was a beautiful cycle around the coast of the island before heading inland and a big climb up and over the Island to reach Lochranza in time for last (food) orders at the pub and a spectacular sunset to round off the day.

It’s been a beautiful day’s ride. I could have just done without the punctures, gear slipping, Tarmac tyres, the headwind and the ferry issue – and then I would have had more time to enjoy Arran more.

Tomorrow, I catch 2 more ferries as I island hop and make my way to Inveraray, where the injured John and Dave will meet me.

Update: It turns out that Aussie Mike also rode into the same newly-laid asphalt. He’s writing a great blog on their adventures. Kev and Mike’s Amazing Adventure

Stats for LEJoG day 9:


4,196ft ascent. 4,288ft descent.

Fastest speed 39.7mph.

Average speed 10.2mph

Average Heart Rate: 119bpm

Max heart rate 169bpm.

Average cadence 72rpm



Headstrong in the Headwind

This morning, I left my accommodation and went in search of breakfast. Remembering I’d passed a Tesco Express on my way in to Carlisle, I cycled up the hill only for it to be closed. I suddenly remembered that it was Sunday. I normally only lose track of the day of the week on the second or third week away – not within 8 days!
So, breakfastless, I headed out of Carlisle towards Scotland – immediately hitting a strong headwind as I cycled adjacent to the M6.
After 10 miles or so, I saw the “Scotland Welcomes You” sign. In England, it was great to be able to tick off the counties as we passed them. Now, as I stretched to take a self portrait with my camera phone, I was chuffed to have been able to tick off my first country.
Once in Gretna Green, I made a slight detour to see the Old Blacksmith’s shop before heading west towards Dumfries. It’s bizarre that exactly the time I changed my heading, the wind switched direction too. I was now cycling west into a strong headwind.
I plodded on and got to Dumfries, just as a band in the city centre started playing Flower of Scotland and it was then that I knew I’d smashed a big psychological barrier. I had cycled to Scotland.
From Dumfries, I followed what my GPS told me was the Old Military Road. It headed directly west over some beautiful countryside. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, my legs were feeling good and I was making good progress.
The last 20 miles were beautiful yet bloody tough. The road wound up some long hills but the headwind was strong. There’s no escaping it either when you’re cycling by yourself. It’s relentless. That said, I tried to focus on what was around me to take my mind off the wind and hills. I saw little rodents scurry across the road, a big eagle-type bird, a whole range of roadkill in varying states of decay (reminds me I had to ride over/through a dead badger yesterday in order not to get squashed myself on the A road!), and I also rode up close to a small deer as it was walking up the road ahead of me.
The last 10 miles were into the strongest headwind I’ve faced on the trip so far. I need my team mates back to do some work at the front for me!
I made it to Minnigaff, where I met Mike and Kev from Melbourne who are taking 3 weeks to do their LEJoG. We went to the pub, ate loads and now it’s bed.
Big day tomorrow! I’ve just seen there are 2 climbs up to 1,300ft to do. It’s also a race to catch the afternoon ferry to Arran.

Stats for LEJoG day 8:
87.36 miles.
3,520ft ascent. 3,615ft descent.
Fastest speed 37.4mph.
Average speed 13.3mph
Average Heart Rate: 124bpm
Max heart rate 158bpm.
Average cadence 74rpm

I wandered lonely as a cloud

With my first full solo day ahead of me, I made an early start to take advantage of the bright blue skies over Cumbria.

The A5074 was eerily quiet and I made good progress to Windermere where crowds were starting to gather for an air show.

I headed straight to Ambleside where I stopped to get new brake blocks. They’d taken a pounding on all the hills in Cornwall and I didn’t fancy a fast descent without decent brakes.

From Ambleside, the only way was up. And a very steep up at that. My route was to take me up and over the Kirkstone Pass via a road only known as “The Struggle”. It’s a 3-mile ascent that’s starts steep at 20%, levels off to 10% before the final zig zag section up to the Kirkstone Inn that gets to 25% gradient in places. This was the climb I was dreading most – but also the climb I was looking forward to most.

At the bottom, I met some nice walkers who took my photo and also gave a donation to the BHF.


At the bottom of “The Struggle” road up the Kirkstone Pass

The climb itself was tough, but not actually a tough as I was expecting. Having trained on the 20% climb that’s Chalkpit Lane in Kent, the Struggle was just a prolonged version. When I reached the zig zags, I was overtaken by some cyclists in training, but I kept to the outside of the bends and persevered to reach the top without stopping. Knackered but chuffed that I’d made it with my fully laden panniers.

Cycling Kirkstone Pass Struggle with Panniers

Looking back down the Struggle from the top of the Kirkstone pass

Kirkstone Inn cycling panniers Kikstone Pass Struggle

Taking a break outside the Kirkstone inn after cycling The Struggle with Panniers.

After a quick break, it was time for the descent. I’ve seen YouTube videos of 50mph descents on the Kirkstone Pass, so that was my aim. I waited a good few minutes after a car had passed before I set off. The descent itself was perfect! Fast, but with just about the right amount of twists to make it interesting. As there were no cars coming the other way, I used both sides of the road. I overtook 2 cars and prayed to the God of road maintenance as I averaged 40mph for 3 miles.

After a beautiful cycle alongside Ullswater, I headed north (into a strong headwind) and battled the last 20 miles into Carlisle, where I had a sports massage to ease out the tight legs.

Just back from seeing Nikki Wadey, who came over to see me from Alston.

Tomorrow’s a big day: 84 hilly miles to Newton Stewart. I can’t quite believe that I’ll have cycled to Scotland! I’m doing my best to keep the LEJoG flame alive until I may be re-joined by my injured team mates in a few days’ time.

Garmin stats for LEJoG Day 7: target

63.37 miles.
3,793ft ascent. 3,839ft descent.
Fastest speed 42.2mph.
Average speed 12.7mph
Average Heart Rate: 126bpm
Max heart rate 191bpm.
Average cadence 69rpm

LEJoG Day 7 – Arnside to Carlisle via Kirkstone Pass and The Struggle

Big day today! Arnside to Carlisle via the Lake District. The plan is to go up and over the Kirkstone Pass via “The Struggle” which is one of the country’s toughest climbs – a 3-mile slog that reaches 25% gradient in places! It’ll be even tougher with full panniers!

Bike route 1114972 – powered by Bikemap

When 2 became 1

Today’s route was designed to be as functional as possible. With little scenery to admire, it was a case of getting some miles under our belt by using the main roads rather than touring the country lanes to which we had become accustomed.

Alicia waved us goodbye at Tarporley and we headed directly north on the A49 – a good flat road (apart from the pot holes!) to warm the legs up for the day’s 86 miles.

Barely 10 miles in and Dave was struggling with his knee again. We stopped at a petrol station whilst he performed a variety of stretches, lunges and other moves to try and alleviate the pain – much to the bemusement of the passing motorists.

We cracked on for another 10 miles to Wigan when Dave pulled up again. This time the pain was too much and Dave made the decision to retire from the day’s stage to go and get his knee seen to.

So, another blow to the team. It just goes to show though, that a challenge like this (especially with heavy panniers on) will find niggles and, over days and days of pedalling, turn those niggles into full blown injuries. It’s relentless and tough.

So, after grabbing the essentials that Dave was carrying (lock, tools etc) I hit the road marked “The North” leaving Dave to shuffle towards Wigan station with his tail between his gammy legs.

With 60 odd miles left to do, I decided to put my head down and get them done as quickly as possible. I was averaging about 20-25 mph and munched through the miles.

It occurred to me that as I’m still top of the “who gets the most punctures gets thrown in the sea at John O’Groats” leaderboard, does it mean, now the others have dropped out, that I will have to hurl myself into the sea? Answers on a postcard…

I pressed on to Preston where the GPS thought it would be a good idea to route me up a steep cobbled alley into the city centre. No wonder that lad in the bread advert pushed his bike up that cobbled hill!

The next town was Lancaster and, just as I was nearing the city centre, I took a rare look into a passing car’s passenger window to see Jess Green waving at me! I’m told I did the world’s biggest double take but, sure enough it was her. We pulled over and out hopped Steve and Jess! They were on their way up to Scotland from Reading and had been tracking my progress on GPS and came to say hi! If you’re reading this S&J, it was a great surprise to see you! And thanks for the profiterole!!!!

With Lancaster done, there was only a straightforward 20 miles left to my night’s accommodation in Arnside. As we hadn’t cancelled the others’ reservations, the manager of the YHA allowed me to use the extra paid towards my food. In total contrast to Fowey YHA, the food at Arnside was terrific.

I retired to my private room, which had views out across the bay and over to the threatening lake district mountains in the distance – which is where I’m heading tomorrow.

Stats for LEJoG Day 6:
83.83 miles.
2,625ft ascent. 2,877ft descent.
Fastest speed 37.2mph.
Average speed 14.2mph
Average Heart Rate: 123bpm
Max heart rate 164bpm.
Average cadence 75rpm