It was the last day and I still felt fresh. How could this be? I really expected to be in pieces by now but, as I got on the bike for the last 52 miles from Helmsdale to John O’Groats, I thought to myself that I could continue like this for many more weeks to come.
Immediately after leaving Helmsdale, the A9 took a distinct and steep turn upwards and, just as abruptly, I changed my mind. I was glad it was the last day. And especially glad that I didn’t have to cycle the further 20 miles from John O’Groats to Thurso as the invalids had the car.
It was a cool, clear morning and, as I cycled up the first hill at a speed just quick enough to stop the clouds of midges from eating me alive, I had time to take in the great views across the North Sea towards two distant oilrigs.
The A road was relatively quiet and I made good progress for the first couple of hours. I passed several people cycling either as individuals, groups or supported teams and they were either on their last day, like me, or coming in the opposite direction – their adventures just beginning.
I had my first stop at 30 miles at an old church just outside the small town of Thrumster. Time for a drink and what must have been my 1,000th flapjack of the trip. I can tell you now that it’ll be a while before I eat another flapjack!
I soon passed through Wick and, as the guys in the car stopped for a coffee, I continued northwards, knowing that the ride’s end was only an hour’s ride away.
North of Wick, the landscape was that of open farmland – with sheep and horses in the fields and small lonely farm cottages dotted here and there. I can imagine this would be a very bleak place if the weather was bad.
I came over the crest of one final hill and out stretched a view of the north coast of Scotland and across to the Orkney Islands. Slightly to the right, I could make out the small town of John O’Groats – only a mile or so away now.
My mind then turned to the invalids in the car as they had yet to overtake me. I’d last seen them in Wick, as they stopped to find a coffee shop. Were they still there? Had they managed to find another road to overtake and be waiting at the finish for me? Were they actually thinking of being at the finish at all?
I continued on the bike and took my phone out to video the “Welcome to John O’Groats” sign as I entered the town. Just at this point, the guys in the car passed me. Talk about cutting it fine!
I rounded one final bend and freewheeled down through the car park and straight to the famous sign – which was surrounded by some very bemused Japanese tourists.
With almost exactly 1,000 miles on the clock, I’d finished. Months of preparation, training and two weeks on a bike all for this moment. I’d cycled from end to end and I felt great! It’s just a shame that John O’Groats itself is such a naff place. There’s a derelict building which has been painted lurid colours and the gift shops sell tat to the coach loads of tourists who get bussed in every day. But for me, the actual finish at John O’Groats wasn’t the point. It was the experience as a whole that made it. And incredible scenery throughout Cornwall, Devon and up through the lake District and Scotland more than made up for the hell hole that is John O’Groats.
The signpost at John O’Groats is actually chained off and you must pay to have an official photograph. But, with the proprietor asleep in his hut, I confused the Japanese tourists even more as I held the bike aloft for a photo against the sign that read “Your town?” There’s always Photoshop to change that message.
John and Dave joined me at the sign for a group photo and it’s this that I’ll treasure the most. The trip was a team effort. They were each gutted when their knee injuries forced them to retire. But they did everything to help me complete the ride when they rejoined me in Scotland with the car.
The guys produced a bottle of champers (which went straight to my head!) and I opened a package that Jude had posted up which contained personalised medals for the three of us. I was on a high after finishing the ride. I just wish the invalids had been able to share that feeling too.
We chatted to a group of JoGLE cyclists who were just setting off and then threw the bike in the car and headed to Thurso where we packed it up ready to be posted home. We spent a few hours watching the caber tossing at the Highland Games in Halkirk and then drove to Inverness before we flew home the next day.
Garmin stats for day 14
2,854ft ascent. 2,835ft descent.
Fastest speed 44.2mph.
Average speed 16.3mph
Average Heart Rate: 131bpm
Max heart rate 174bpm.
Average cadence 80rpm