Somewhere on this trip we went up a gear. Just a few weeks ago, forty kilometres was almost unthinkable. Some days we cycled just twenty five or so, then stopped to put up the tent, feeling we’d done quite well. But now, if I haven’t clocked up at least sixty kilometres on the milometer I feel like I’ve underachieved. It’s become addictive. And the fact that we have less than three weeks left to complete our mission, with getting on for another thousand kilometres to cycle fuels the addiction. So does the weather that’s forever threatening to break. At the beginning of the trip I thought I’d be happy to reach Edinburgh. But suddenly that would feel like failure.
Yet all around us there are people who make us feel like snails, and overshadow our best efforts. The other John O Groaters are the worst. Way back in Chepstow we met the Canelle family. Having cycled as a family for many years they were now doing a last fling trip with their two teenage sons. As our own boys trashed the café, theirs gracefully mounted their bikes and prepared to leave for Hereford. They were expecting to get there by the end of the afternoon. We were headed in the same direction but expected it would take us three days to get near the town. In the event, we gave up and went to Leominster instead. The mother of the Cannelle family seemed a little surprised to hear we had no idea where we were staying each night. But for me that’s one of the more fun aspects of the trip. Heavy planning is not my bag.
In Church Stretton we met Julie and Colin, another couple of former John O Groaters, on bikes, out for a Sunday morning cycle. “We did Lands End to John O Groats last year,” they said, congratulating us on our progress so far.“I bet you did it quicker than us,” I joked. “Oh no, we did it really slowly,” they replied. “It took us seventeen days.”
Julie and Colin, out for a Sunday ride in Church Stretton
Today we broke the seventy kilometer barrier. It was a beautiful days riding, through the Lakes, past Derwentwater and Thirlmere, and through the busy Lakeland towns of Ambleside and Grasmere. But it was tiring and hilly and the Dunmail Raise gave way to countless smaller hills as we wound our way around to Carlisle. Evening arrived and the rain was pushing in when we arrived at a closed pub we had been aiming for. As we ate the last of our stale bread, and sat on the cold gravel, we discovered Carlisle was still seventeen kilometres away, which would take us to a total of seventy one kilometres. “Damn,” I thought, stretching knackered legs. Now seventy was the new sixty, and forty was a blast from the past. “Come on kids, just seventeen more for a new world record,” I said, with one eye on the milometer and the other on the road.