At the time I was injured so triathlon was off the agenda and I needed to fill the gap with another challenge that would inspire and motivate me.
I did the trip in September 2010, cycling 930 miles over 10 days. Most people ride Lands End to John O’Groats with the thinking that the prevailing wind direction is behind you. On this trip we had a headwind until we got past Largs in Scotland so I’m not sure it makes a lot of difference.
I joined a small organised trip with 5 other cyclists who I didn’t know.
It was great to be part of a group because I met some new people, made some long lasting friends and we had a lot of fun. Plus it was also great to share the experience with other people.
Being part of an organised meant that a lot of the planning was done for me in terms of routes, hotels, transfers etc. At the time this was a great help as it meant all I had to do was ride my bike.
However, often part of the fun of cycle touring is doing the route planning and organising yourself so it’s worth thinking about what you enjoy about a cycle trip.
Being part of the organised group meant that there was a vehicle on the route providing some support should we need it. It also meant we could meet the van at lunch time to change any clothing or get more food if we needed to. With 100 miles a day to ride this was a luxury that was well worth it.
We were all of different levels of speed and fitness so sometimes we rode together in different pairs and sometimes we rode on our own, just meeting up at café and lunch stops.
Over the course of the trip we got to know each other providing support and encouragement when needed.
Knowing that there was support there was a real comfort to me and helped me feel confident to do the ride on my own, rather than going with a friend. At the time I wasn’t such a confident rider, and didn’t really enjoy riding on my own so this was a real help.
To help with the possibility that I might have to do a lot of riding on my own I had lined up some favourite play lists and podcasts just in case I needed something to help with the boredom or stop me from getting lonely, but in the end didn’t really need them.
Devon and Cornwall were really hard!
Pack for all weathers!
If you have two of something take it! E.g. two pairs of cycling shoes or two waterproof jackets because over 10 days of riding it can be hard to get things dry.
Don’t be afraid to have a regular stops e.g. a morning coffee break, lunch stop and an afternoon coffee stop. This helps to break up the day but also having regular breaks helps to stop you riding yourself into the ground.
But don’t stop too much! A lot of faffing can take up a lot of time.
As we only had 10 days it’s a bit difficult to take the scenic route and some of the roads were a little bit hectic and not very scenic.
Take spare bike kit – e.g. tyres, tubes etc. And have someone who knows how to fix a bike, or have a strategy for dealing with mechanical issues
Eat nice food rather than relying on gels and energy bars for the whole trip. I always had a nice cake stashed in my back pocket.
Do some training! The fitter you are the more enjoyable the trip will be.
Train in all weathers. On the trip you will need to ride in whatever weather is thrown at you. Doing some training in all weathers will help you to know what it feels like, how to handle your bike, and also how your kit deals with the weather.
Do some long rides, and also a mixture of rides over a few days. This will help to get your bottom used to it!
You really can ride yourself fit! I didn’t believe it, especially when I was struggling to walk down the stairs after about 3 days, but by the end of the trip I really was fitter.
My husband and some friends met me half way through the trip for dinner which was a fabulous boost to morale. They also baked me a cake to take on the rest of the trip – this was more of a boost than I ever thought possible at tea and lunch stops.
Avoid saddle sores by using chamois cream, having plenty of clean and dry shorts, and avoid riding in wet clothes for a long time.
At the time I said this trip was harder than doing an Ironman. This was because after 3 days I was on my knees, but still had to get up the next day and do it all over again, and again, and again.
At the time it was probably the most cycling I’d ever done, so when I go back and do it again I’m sure I won’t find it quite so hard, and I also have a lot more cycling experience now.
Although it was hard, it was also one of the best things I ever did. It totally changed me as a cyclist, boosting my confidence and making me realise I could do a lot more than I thought.