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Aberdeen to London? Completed it mate

Apologies for the delay in this final blog installment. Elation, exhaustion and being completely overwhelmed made it difficult to do anything, let alone anything productive, after finishing yesterday’s ride.  

We made it. We actually made it. 6 days ago 7 of us set off up to Aberdeen not really knowing what lay ahead for us on the dual carriage ways, B roads, canal paths and dirt lanes we had to travel. We only knew that the journey back down south would take significantly longer than the hour and a half flight we’d just enjoyed.

The morning was overcast and unremarkable. Despite Rich’s alarm not going off and him and Andy having an extra 45 mins shut eye, as well as Andy having the extra task of changing a tyre, we set off relatively early, with our minds focused on completing the task and our hearts already in London.

After Monday’s dramatic A14 finish we managed to travel the 3 miles down the A1 without mishap, making it to Buckden, and the relief of quiet back roads, only slightly rattled. The aim was to get to Walkern, as from there we were firmly in Neil’s stomping ground and he could guide us to central London. By now the pure fatigue in our legs meant any form of incline was torture, and despite Lara’s spin class motivation playlist, the going was tough and onerous.

Although the trip lasted less than a week, we all discussed how strange it will be readjusting to our normal work routines. How checking emails, arranging phone calls and attending meetings will seem obscure compared to the singular task of getting on our bikes and riding south. How we’d have to revert back to respectable, normal work colleagues who didn’t scoff down food, make crude jokes or randomly start chanting ‘EIC C C’ at any given moment.

After a quick stop at Walkern we made rapid progress to Potters Bar for lunch. However, any time we’d saved from the quickened pace was dashed by eating at one of the slowest cafes imaginable. Richard, who ordered first but whose food came last, was particularly sullen and hangry until a warm panini lightened his mood. While we were in the eatery, the rain which had teased about falling all morning arrived in full to welcome us back to London. Although an irritation, we all commented how remarkably lucky we had been that the only rain we saw throughout the trip was for our last 20 miles and how completely different the experience could have been if we had been met by downpours or storms. With our waterproofs on we set off to tap out the final part of our adventure.

Potters Bar is just north of the M25 ring road and soon we were met the sounds and sights of Greater London, the red buses and black taxis, signs for Northern line underground stops, near constant traffic and honking drivers which cut you up without a second thought and the sheer mass of people which isn’t replicated anywhere else in the UK. It was becoming very real just how close to finishing we were.

At the same however it didn’t feel real, the surrealness and craziness of the situation, that only 6 long days ago we were up in Aberdeen and had made it to London purely on peddle power felt made up, like it just couldn’t be true. The days were some of the longest I’ve experienced but at the same time the experience went by so fast. Days blurred into one and experiences which happened the previous morning felt like memories from weeks ago.

After a final short climb the rain ceased and the sun appeared as we made our way through familiar boroughs, passing landmarks such as Trafalgar Square and the House of Parliament that we knew so well. With 3 miles to go and the office so nearly within our grasps our smooth sailing was impeded by Andy’s bike deciding that it had had enough. The fork completely came away from the handle bars, a break not seen before by anyone in the team, nor the employee in the cycle shop. Nevertheless, being one bike down did not stop us finishing as a team, and a conveniently placed Mobike (the sight of Andy cycling made Tom literally weep with laughter) meant we managed to make it to the office as one.

As we arrived we were overcome by the sounds of cheering, shouts of welldone and bouts of clapping as we were met by a mass of colleagues, family and friends. Hands were shook and hugs were received as the realisation that we had done it swept over the team. The feelings of surrealness, relief, disbelief, astonishment and shock were intense and overwhelming and these feelings were deepened by the amazing reception we received.

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Photographs were taken (those taken by resident professional Terri will be linked to the blog at some point), bottles of bubbly popped, glasses chinked and backs patted as we made our way up to the office to a cereal-bar free spread of food and drink. The team, which as Stuart rightly stated in his speech, we had well and truly become, regaled colleagues with stories, complained about our aching bodies and received countless rounds of applause as well as a neat commemorative medal. Confirmation that we’d raised over £10,000 for our two charities was met by the loudest round of clapping and cheers.

And just like that, it was over. The bike boxes were taken out of the van to be dealt with the next day, the van was returned to Waterloo, and the team began making their individual ways home burdened by luggage, still in our cycle gear and attempting to navigate rush hour public transport. A life changing experience all wrapped up within a week, but one which made memories and a sense of pride and achievement that will last must longer.

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Day 5 delirum

We have made it to Huntingdon with our bodies falling apart and our brains left in Doncaster (read Aberdeen). We have travelled across five and a half counties today–  Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire (and Rutland).

Knowing we had a long day ahead of us we had a 6:30 breakfast, set off soon after 8 and made good progress for the first 25 miles, after Richard unintentionally guided the team around some of the suburbs of Doncaster within the first 3 minutes of cycling. Like the rest of the week the sky started off overcast and the only notable events were Andy cycling into the back of Rich and damaging his bike slightly so it can’t run in either the top or bottom and Mark managing to cycle into every pothole in site, even despite the shouts of ‘pothole’.

The sun came out for the second quarter and again it was fairly smooth sailing with the sun coming out and Lara blaring an ‘old school party’ playlist, with some great/terrible songs including some Shania Twain classics, No Scrubs, All Star and Eiffel 65’s Blue. two instances of interest. 1) Lara getting her first puncture of the trip and 2) Mark’s bike “steering itself” off road into a stinging nettle bush and to avoid rashes he duckdived off his bike and into the road to only narrowly avoid being run over by Andy. A sign of how long we’ve been away from civilised society, the site of blood was meet by cheers by the team. I don’t think we can function in real life anymore.

Day 5 and a miracle occurred, we actually managed to get to a nice pub for lunch, and it was even at lunch time! The warm paninis and ocean juice and lemonade were a welcome treat and along with the hospitable hosts, made an hour and a half lunch fly by much quicker than it does on the bike.

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After lunch and the one big climb the team knew off, the promised flat land did not occur, much to everyone’s, and especially Mark. who is cycling without clip in pedals, annoyance. The hills were not the relentless ups and downs of day two or three, rather they were long, sprawling giants which were spread over a mile or so. These hills took their toll so much that the team actually started dreading the declines as we knew an incline would follow. The sun was fully out and the afternoon was hot. Sweat dripped from out foreheads, made our arms glisten and collected in unsavoury places. The sunshine made the green countryside, little villages with old churches, Belvoir Castle and viaduct seem even more beautiful. The afternoon was arguably the most scenic of the trip, so much so it even made Neil a bit emotional.

 

As we were cycling up one of the many hills a strange illusion occurred, Ollie cycled past us in a group of four with exactly the same glasses and an absolutely gigantic smile on his face. The questions of ‘was that Ollie?’ made their way down through the convoy until everyone was laughing at the absurdity (note in case this isn’t clear for some of you, it wasn’t actually Ollie but it was his exact double, worthy of it’s own episode of the Twilight Zone). I think the heat and exhaustion had got to us.

The pounding sun made us stop a few miles earlier than planned and what an unexpected delight that was. The owner, Camille Mclean, was an absolute treasure and her shaded garden, home made cakes and plenty of free water and crisps made us not want to leave (see her Pickle Shop here and village shop here). Begrudgingly, we set off with 25 miles to go, hoping it would be slightly more flat.

After 100 odd miles the last thing we wanted was busy A roads. Unfortunately, the only way to get to the hotel was either the A1 or A19. We opted for the A19 as it has more numbers and therefore is quieter (Rich’s and Neil’s logic). Although undoubtedly less busy than the A1, the road was rush hour packed with near constant lorries over-taking at nightmarishly close. The adrenaline was flowing and we absolutely bombed it down at around 30mph. The horrorshow was made worse for Andy when his tyre burst and he had to sprint to the sliproad without slipping off the bike himself. It’s safe to say that was the most traumatic experience of the journey.

After surviving the A19 we made it to the hotel to see Lara’s mum and brother at the car with a giant “welcome EIC cycling heroes” sign and a selection of delicious German snacks and beer. Safe to say it was so greatly appreciated and helped restore some normality after a long day and an absolutely horrible final 30 mins.

We are officially in the South and have a relatively easy 70 odd miles through Mark and Neil’s backgardens tomorrow. I cannot wait to not wake up and have to ride a bike.

 

 

Hellooo Doncaster!

Day 4 is done and dusted, it hasn’t been the most inspiring day so I will persevere to write something entertaining for our committed fan base.

I think today could be summarised by the word ‘more’. More niggles, aches and pains in our legs, backs, shoulders and necks. Apart from the general achenes we have to make special mention to Mark’s knee, Neil’s stomach, Ollie’s back, Lara’s toes, Rich’s elbows and Tom’s hamstring. More stretches. More moans and groans as we bend to pick stuff up or get out of chairs. More breakfasts consisting of cereal, danishes, eggs, hash browns, baked beans, sausages and maybe a bit of black pudding washed down by more cups of coffee. More cereal bars and sweets. More saddle-sore behinds. More sun and more wind. More slipstreams. More weathered faces. More working on our cyclists tans and burns. More chain oil tribal tattoos on our legs. More rolling hills, seas of trees and green farmland. More swallowed flies. More 200ft+ climbs which either appear out of nowhere or taunt you from the distance. More towns and villages, some scenic, some dreary, many of which we’re unlikely to see again. More shouts of ‘potholes’ ‘cars’ and ‘go go go’. More minor navigation issues. More corner shop meal deals. More roads which start of pleasant and smooth and without warning turn craterous and worn so that the shudders spread up your legs and throughout your body.  And many more miles and road ahead of us.

Our day began with a decision between hills and minor roads or flatness and A roads. As today is Sunday, and after the last two days of climbs (each day was had over 5300ft) we opted for flatness. While this originally meant us heading down the A19 into York, at the last minute we opted for a slightly shorter Google Maps route which lead us to run parallel to the the A1(M) for most of the way down. Although the sun greated us when we woke we set off at 8:30, our earliest start to date, with the sky overcast and the air cool, following roads signs which reassuringly pointed to “THE SOUTH”.

The uniqueness of the day was only due to it’s blandness and contrast to previous days. There were no massive climbs or beautiful scenery. If today was the first day it wouldn’t have been so bad but with the pain and exhaustion building today was really just a day of getting the miles done. Especially as we have 120 to cover tomorrow. As it was so light of notable events I’m going to list them in no particular order below.

  • Passing a pub called the Bland Arms which we found very aptly named
  • A woman riding a bike with a ‘caution horse’ bib on but no horse in sight
  • Tom adding more lyrics to his EIC remix of Agadoo song (E I C C C we’ve cycled from Dundee etc.)
  • The sun coming out while we were travelling down Paradise Road- although this was quickly followed by a surprise climb
  • The aircon not working in any of rooms, again. Thanks Premier Inn, a 25.5C room is just what we want after 100 mile bike ride, grumble grumble, grumble
  • A short detour through a farm which had many ‘no entry apart from authorised personnel’ signs
  • A very welcomed 4:30 finish. Our earliest so far by at least 2 hours
  • Tom’s very white shorts making it appear like he was wearing a thong (to the relief of the team these were switched at the first break). He was also stretched out (read tortured) by Lara at lunch

Wooh ohhh we’re half way there

Day 3 and our third mode of GPS. After Andy’s Garmin still refused to play ball we moved on to downling an app called Komoot and keeping a phone fully charged. Most of us, apart from Mark who was KOed as soon as his head hit the pillow, had a pretty terrible nights sleep. The guy’s were sharing a room whose window opened less than a crack and had a shower which didn’t function for anyone over 5 foot 10 while Lara suffered with snoring elderly women. After breakfast we popped across to a very conveniently located bike shop—it literally shared a carpark with a hostel and sorted a few niggles that some of the bikes had picked up after the first couple days and headed off only an hour later than planned.

Our original route would have seen us heading down the single laned A1 for around 40 miles, however, Stuart’s wife, Charlotte, grew up locally and informed us that the road is incredibly fast, and as it’s Saturday, would be incredibly busy. On her advice we headed for smaller roads. While this was great as it meant cars were few and far between the road was, using Tom’s favourite word, consistently undulating (this means it went up and down a lot for you philistines). The roads were also so full of potholes that the word began to lose meaning after we’d heard it shouted for the 50th time. A further downside was the slower pace allowed for Tom to explain the intricacies of cricket to Lara.

After a quick break 25 miles in the road became a bit more substantial. However, as the road widened the hills increased and became persistent, gruelling and, especially after yesterday, an absolute struggle. The 30 miles until lunch were arguably the hardest part of the journey to date and we all downed meal deals + of scran (food for non-Northerners).

The second half of the day saw us pass the Angel of the North and head into Newcastle. After Edinburgh we were rather anxious about travelling across the city on a Saturday. However, our qualms were unfounded and traversing the city was surprisingly easy, especially with Lara blasting a range of classic rock anthems from some bike speakers.  From there it was suburbs all the way to Durham which was quite uneventful apart from us passing arguably the best place name of the trip to date, the little town of ‘Pity Me’. What also made the place remarkable was a man standing all alone with a gigantic Eagle Owl perched on his arm, which turned it’s neck a full 180 to watch us pass. Apart from a few near misses from cars coming too close, and a 5 miler dual carriage way at the end, which Tom guided us through at a rapid 25mph, we made it to Stockon-on-Tees (relatively) in one piece.

What really made our arrival was members of the northern office welcoming us in with prosecco, doughnuts and the best husky dog you’ll ever meet. Tomorrow is another long one but after our first puncture free day we are half way there and feeling pretty good.

p.s. I’m too beat to arrange the photos properly so please see the array below.

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We’ve made it to England!

What a difference a day makes. While day 1 started with clear skies, sunshine and the wind on our backs, our second day started with clouds, chill and a killer cross wind which made being at the front a lot more difficult than yesterday. What made it more difficult was Andy’s Garmin, which worked so perfectly yesterday, lured us into a false sense of security and would not play ball at all. Instead we set off with town names we should go through and a rough route in our minds.

Neil, who also lead for over half of day 1, gallantly took the lead and him and Richard did the first third. Which, although challenging, turned out to be the easiest part of the day.

After a quick pit stop at Lochgelly we headed off to Edinburgh and it all went downhill from there (very, very unfortunately that is not literal).

After crossing a glorious bridge, the traffic and speed of the roads dramatically increased, a string of busy dual carriages and A-roads lead us to the outskirts of Edinburgh, where, after seeing a cycle route singpost, too many close overtakes made us decide we should go off road for a bike.

While the canal route was beautiful, it massively slowed our progress. Cobbles, over cyclists, dog walkers, and Neil’s 3rd puncture of the trip (he has since changed the faulty tyre) meant we our speed dropped to probably around 10mph. The canal, however, was pure bliss compared to Edinburgh city centre itself. Cars everywhere, angry taxi drivers, trams coming out of nowhere, general bike issues including wobbly wheels, lose chains and a broken chain, a minor crash by Ollie, and only a vague idea where we were going meant when we arrived for lunch, a good hour at least after we planned, it’s safe to say we were at our lowest of the trip so far.

However, hot food and coffee helped restore moods and a change in tactic, using Google Maps we set a route using towns we were going past through the original planned route (without this the app tries sending you down the quickest, and generally most dual carriaged way). This seemed to work and we made good progress to what we were all dreading, the climb. After already cycling for 80 miles we came  the 5 mile long and at some points 17% gradient hill.

Afterwards we agreed it was one of the hardest things we had ever done. The hill, although I think mountain would be a better term, just kept going and going and going… and going. In the lowest gears we had, slow progress was made until we finally reached the point we’d agreed with to meet John with the van. A sense of pride and ecstasy swept over the group and the fact we knew the last 30 miles was mainly down hill, and the welcomed sunshine meant adrenaline was flowing.

The final slog provided some glorious sunshine, although our hopes of it being all down hill were dashed within 5 miles, a handful of climbs were incredibly difficult, a it’s fair to say a fair few of us hit the wall. Special mention to Mark here who’s longest cycle ride before we set off was 25 miles. He’s now done at least 180 in two days.

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With 4 miles to go, we made it into England and the town of Berwick, and even our youth hostel, was a sight for sore eyes (and immensely sore legs). Next stop Stockton!

Day 1 Done!!

We’ve made it to Dundee! After 6am flights (and 3am starts) we arrived in Aberdeen to sunshine and wind.

The first task was putting our bikes back together, a job found easy by most except for Andy who managed to get his pump stuck in his inner tube and Richard who lost a wheel bearing in the transfer process. The latters wobbly handlebars were unwobbled by a bike shop in  Stonehaven.

The journey was mostly  beautiful coastal roads, we would show you a video to demonstrate this but someone (who’s name rhymes with Hark) didn’t charge his GoPro pre-trip. Instead, please enjoy a range of smug country/seaside shots.

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Other highlights included Neil getting a puncture at one of the most scenic locations on route, then four miles later got another one at a slightly less aesthetically pleasing place.

Some delicious icecream, flavours included mango and sweet chilli, banoffe and strawberries and cream.

Another highlight was Mark somehow having a medium kids jersey and having his lower back (and that’s being generous) on display but we don’t want to traumatise you so don’t have a photo of that.

Special mention here to our two day support van driver, John, who has greated us at every pitstop and shown us where to eat and supported us with a gigantic banner.

To round up, the day can be summarised by great views, glorious sunshine and sharp winds. Roll on day 2.

Update 4: ONE WEEK TO GO!!

One week to go and a quick final blog post before we set off (with an aim to write a daily one during the trip– if we don’t all collapse into our beds the minute we arrive at the hotel). After months of planning, training and eating we only have seven days between us and the ride.

All the loose ends have been tied up, Andy has had a more detailed look at the route and has updated it so we’re avoiding dual carriage ways as much as possible (see the updated route here). Day 2 still seems like the most challenging, with a very, very substantial climb 75 miles in.

He has also found a new way to navigate using Garmin, a GPS service which can be linked to a device to provide a very basic, but rather accurate route, similar to the image below.

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Our recorded Strava mileage has clocked up to 5,777 and the mood amongst the team could be described as ‘resigned determination’.

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Andy has been trialling Garmin around the Surrey Hills with only minor hiccups.

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Tom has been cycling, and smashing, the routes of his younger days (he did this in 2:00:08 much to his annoyance!)

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Richard enjoyed (only slight sarcasm there) the hills of North Kent, reaching 100 miles– although he had to cycle round in circles for 3 miles at the end to achieve this!

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Lara was still tearing up the roads in her home country, carboloading on all the German cakes and powering through cycles in the rain.