Le Jog: Final Thoughts and Sign Off

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2nd August 2013

It’s been a week now since we finished John o’Groats to Land’s End, collapsing from our bikes and into our beds on July 23rd having set out early on 5th July. With 7 days to sit around and rest joints and limbs made sore by the relentless cycling we put ourselves through, there was a chance to reflect on what we had done and what we might take away from it all.

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It was 1109 miles over 3 countries, 24 counties and countless cities, towns, villages and hamlets across the United Kingdom. The hospitality we received from friends and strangers was never less than remarkable. I’d feared we might find people somewhat hostile in the more remote areas of Scotland or Wales, swaggering bearded Londoners in lycra, but this only reflects poorly on the prejudices that I carried into the trip as people went out of their way to prove me wrong and help us out.

It started with a chase through London rush hour to catch our train. Then a dusky night in Caithness where the sun sets but it never seems to get truly dark and we were on our way. Amongst streams and rocks, shrubbery and gravel, light and air, lochs and pebbles throughout the highlands. The hum and buzz and crackle of tyres across sand and gravel and asphalt. Sunlight and tarmac. Slowly shifting into farms and fences, cows and sheep, trees and fields and creeping alongside us ever so slowly buildings of brick and cement, tiles and windows, wood and stone. Shops and markets, cricket grounds and shop awnings, power stations and windmills, roadkill and oil stains. And always the sunlight and the tarmac. Then, all of a sudden, people and sound, crowds and colours, chatter and sirens. Motorways and A-roads, flapjacks and energy drinks, pies and ale, tennis and the Tour de France lulling us to sleep after long days in the saddle. Sheep and tractors, cattle grids and canals, tow paths and fishermen. And the sunlight, still there, beating down on us and on the tarmac we travelled on. Sun cream and cycling shorts, industrial estates and wooded greens. Now, remarkably, the sea which we thought we might never see again. Boats and b-roads, hills and highways, hostels and town halls, viaducts and railway lines and everything bathed in the relentless sunlight of a baking British July. Bunk beds and bathrooms, floors and sofas and a strange unquenchable hunger and thirst which comes from the constant pushing of legs in a circular movement. Hours and hours of staring at the floor in front of you, or the cars rushing past or into the horizon. Chat and laughter, conversation and debate, lazy evenings reading and writing. The rise and fall of the ululating earth as we neared the end. Then a sprawling, stuttering rush to the finish and a meandering, lazy train journey back to where we started.

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We stayed in many YHA hostels throughout Scotland and the North of England and found the facilities excellent. In often remote locations their existence opens up whole swathes of the country to walkers or cyclists interested in seeing different areas which would otherwise be inaccessible. In facilitating travel to young people or families unable to afford the luxuries of hotels and bed and breakfasts they provide a wonderful service that seems all too often to go unused. While there seems to be much more of a hostelling culture in mainland Europe it was disappointing to see these places often half full and under-utilised in the UK. Many of the helpful, often eccentric staff provided us with help finding cheap dinner and gave us a good laugh along the way.

My meetings with Sustrans staff in Caerphilly were also extremely helpful, providing me with a free bell and water bottle, and even filling it up for me before directing me the quickest way out of town and on towards Bristol. The routes serve a key purpose in allowing casual riders to navigate through busy and built up areas without coming into direct contact with traffic and were vital in allowing me to get across the Severn Bridge and move on into Bristol avoiding the M48. They just became somewhat difficult to follow in and around the larger urban areas and too often led us in circuitous routes which slowed our progress and steered us towards a couple of days in the saddle which were longer than we would have liked. Having said that the one day I did solo, Pontypridd to Bristol I managed to do entirely unplanned and without a map thanks to Sustrans, strangers and, as always, a little bit of luck.

There are a huge amount of things that I saw and felt over the trip that I think will stick with me for a long time and I hope to be able to remember them in years to come. The main one was a sensation of being beaten or defeated by a sharp, steep hill or one too many hours of riding and then the feeling of digging somewhere within ourselves to get through it. I lost count of the number of times that I felt like climbing off my bike and sitting by the side of the road or slowing to a useless pace but was dragged through by encouragement from Aldercy Manning or simply the feeling that we were in this endeavour together and it was vital that we both make it through. Similarly, on the Friday evening that we sat in a Carlisle subway and all I could think about was the soreness all over my body and the need to stop, it was his ridiculous dance moves to the Radio 1 blasting from the radio and insistence that we go “raving” that pulled me through.

The endless hours of conversation and talking through of ideas gave us something to think about and on the whole we were drawn to the ideas that had motivated me to plan the trip in the first place. A constant theme was cycling which led to sustainability not only in the way we live but relationships and aspirations for the future. Education and Medicine led us into the joys and challenges of growing older and trying to negotiate careers. Above all I think we were trying to generate an idea of society and where we might fit into that. A departure, then, from our days sloping around Ealing Broadway, 16 years old, seeing what trouble we could get into. There was something that seemed integral, even necessary to doing a trip like this with someone who I had known since childhood – a sort of continuation of our education. Besides we did learn a great deal about the topography of Great Britain and rudimentary bicycle mechanics, about pain and persistence, ecology and philosophy, determination and satisfaction, joy and exhaustion, sunlight, tarmac and friendship.

Rafe Watson

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Day 19: Fin (Le Jog)

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Brilliantine Mortality (It’s a boy)

First of all: we are exhausted. Waking up at 0605 as hazy sunlight floods into the living room, I was sleeping as my mind wandered back over the trip so far. 15 days on a bike. One on a train to Thurso. One in Glasgow. Two in Pontypridd. It has been almost 3 weeks that we have been consumed with the task of cycling the length of the country. Last night saw us sat in a first floor flat overlooking Perranporth beach eating risotto generously prepared by an old friend of Aldercy Manning and walking back through pitch black unravelling country roads to bed down in a beautiful cottage owned by another friend. Once again we are at risk of taking the exceptional hospitality we have seen throughout Scotland, the North of England, South Wales and now the South West for granted. It really would not have been possible for us to get this far without the encouragement and belief of a few key people. You know who you are (TEAM CHAINLUBE FOR LIFE).

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As I lie there looking to the days and months ahead, I am filled with a strange anxiety. It has been 19 days of heaving our heavy limbs out of bed, to climb back onto our bicycles and push on relentlessly towards our new destination. Now that we are closing in on Land’s End – I wonder what happens the morning after we arrive, and the morning after that. The joy and the relief of reaching our goal is twinned with a melancholic nostalgia. Luckily Reuben Merriweather and Lucius Harvey soon appear, dog walked and begin preparing a hearty breakfast of tea and porridge to distract from such thoughts.

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Brushing aside the news of a Royal baby, we clamber back upon our bikes and head determinedly towards our final destination. Reuben Merriweather leads us along 20 miles of stunning coastal roads towards Hayley but we pay a price for such beautiful views, climbing some of the steepest and taxing hills along the way. Here, feeling somewhat the worse for wear and with my bicycle’s front derailleur once again refusing to shift into the little ring, we rejoin our old friend the A30 for the final jaunt. Before the day is out, we will see an unlucky cyclist slumped by the side of the road, having collided with one of the many seemingly reckless cars; which come careering around the unaccomodating corners at eye watering speeds. It is a stark reminder of just how lucky we have been to escape the trip with only a few near misses, rather than full blown accidents.

There has been a constant balancing act on our trip between “avoiding highways” picking smaller more serene scenic roads and a simple need to get to where we are going. On the whole, we have been successful albeit several long hot shifts on the sides of unforgiving and precarious dual carriageways which would have been much better avoided. While we have enjoyed the success of the Sustrans routes in Scotland, they are unaccountably unsatisfactory in England and we have more often than not, neglected them for the pure reasons of efficiency.

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As we spin towards Land’s End however, these thoughts are pardoned and we are triumphant. Some 5 miles from the coastal precipice and abrupt ending of England it suddenly becomes very clear that we may well indeed complete the pilgrimage after all. A bunch sprint is in process on the final flats into the theme park that is Land’s End and instead of the Atlantic, we see the Arc De Triomphe. Instead of the call of the tides, we hear the roar of crowds. There is no sun, only bright lights and music. It is 1pm when Team ChainLUBE assuredly arrive. The milometer reads 1109 miles. Reuben Merriweather wanders into a local cafe to order us 3 cream teas and is charged £24. We are home.

Rafe Watson

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Day 18: Le Jog (The Reuben Merriweather Chronicles – Plymouth to Perranporth 61 miles)

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In the wake of Chris Froome’s triumphant victoire. I was eager to commence my mini tour. Invitee to ‘Le Jog’ and team ChainLUBE, a reunion of old friends and significantly my first big ride since a Toyota MR2 sent me from bicycle to a spinal board three months earlier… time to get back on the steel horse. *clenches bum.

0930 down town Plymouth meeting with the grey Atlantic sea fret. A welcome haar by all accounts. After a heavy session the previous day, odometers now boasting four digits, the boys were in a bad place, the John Wayne stance said it all.

Fuelled up on pasties we got going…the Shimano symphony sung in unison as the tamar bridge expelled us from the back passage of Devon. Kernow a’gas dynergh. Welcome to Cornwall.

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Respectfully I slotted into le derrière of le peleton, full of ‘big ring’ gusto. This was to be my undoing as after a couple of ventures to ‘la tête de la course’ I noticed my legs seemed to be generating significantly less wattage than the finely chiseled hams of Aldercy Manning and Rafe Watson. I was pleased I even made it to Liskeard. Team ChainLUBE’s collective pride took a battering however, during a brief traffic light encounter with a fellow cyclist, who casually dropped into conversation that he had done Le Jog four times. In fact he had done it there in three days, and back also in three; a truly absurdly ridiculous statement. We later agreed that it was possible if he did 300miles/day. Unanimously we decided he was clearly a man of great integrity and more significantly you should have seen his legs. Ridiculous. Calves of truth.

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After a quick pitstop and a hunt for flapjacks we skilfully negotiated our steeds between scally’s and mobility scooters and locked onto the A38. It’s funny how a road you think you know so well becomes a complete fuck on a bike. A route I fondly associate with a run to the sun…holidays, trips to the beach and parties…became a bleak relentless burning bastard of despair. That said we beasted through Bodmin at a rate of knots following onto the bowel inducing A30; a stretch of road that has taken many a cyclist’s life.

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The hard shoulder’s white line became my God as we continued to the north coast, rush hour traffic backed up by the dozen thanks to our pothole slalom. 61 miles later we made it to the beautiful village of Rose, greeted by Larry the black lab who was expecting far more energy than we had left to give.

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We were later collected by Rosamund Marcellus who whisked us to Trevose in the beamer. We ate in the flat overlooking the evening haze of Droskyn, Perranporth. Weary legs replenished with risotto seasoned by Rosamund Marcellus’ phallic mill. Finally we visited the local ale house. After deep discussions on eldercare, the monarchy and Chad Kroeger it was time for to say goodbye to today, and replenish for Le Jog’s closing chapter.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the day. I feel a bit of a fraud swanning in on the champagne final days of the tour, but glad to share some of the experience with this great team. Cheers for getting me back on the bike boys!!!

Many thanks to Lady and Lord Grantham for putting us up this night. Pints (were) waiting for you at the tavern xxx

Reuben Merriweather

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