Friday, 31 August 2007

You're an inspiration


Just bumped into Andy at work another keen cyclist who commented 'You're an inspiration!' Nice one. I am learning to own what I have achieved in doing 762 miles so far rather than see it as a failure to do the whole thing in one go.

I am still adjusting to life after this big journeying, both physically and also at other levels of my being. I am still digesting what it all meant. I'll write more about this here when I can.

On Monday morning very early I am off to Kenya for 8 days to speak at a conference there, to hand out some certificates on behalf of my university and to meet some new students there. I will also be talking about my LEJOG ride and arranging to put the money raised to good use. People are still giving me money for it so don't fee shy!

As some of you know I am part of a group called the Manchester Centre for Urban Spirituality and I will be running a bike pilgrimage with them in the Autumn. This will involve the maximum of 13 miles cycling with plenty of time to rest and reflect and picnic. The idea will be to be open to how cycling is a spiritual activity and I will give participants thoughts to reflect on and opportunities to share. details follow.

Best to all,

Bill on bike


Biking Pilgrimage

Many people speak of their spiritual life as a journey and there is a long tradition of walking retreats or pilgrimages. I have found recently doing regular cycling trips that there is an easy spiritual aspect to cycling – something about being somewhat self contained even when cycling in groups and how the physical exercise itself can take on a spiritual dimension much as yoga does.

The day will be led by William West. The route we will follow will take us along the Withington loop which is a cycle route mostly off road. There will be backup available. Obviously you need a bike to take part but we wont be doing Tour De France distances(!) Indeed we expect to cover 15 miles maximum on the day so there will be plenty of time for rest and reflection built in. Bring a picnic lunch. Tea and coffee will be available at the start and finish.

This is a new venture for MC4US and also it will be held on a Friday rather than our usual Saturdays so we would appreciate early expression of interest

Date: Friday October 12th

Time: Meet at 10am end at 4pm

Cost: £5 per head

To book e.mail or call 0161 274 3995.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

My trip so far


I hope you will find this extended entry interesting as it is based on my diary entries mostly unexpirgated and recall of the trip so far.

Day 1 (Friday 3rd August) Lands End to Wadebridge 73 miles.

Bit of a late start and I got us lost on route to Lands End which was dreadfully commercialised. I did not finish my 73 miles until 8pm – that’s 10 hours cycling over lost and lots of hills but feel amazingly well. Sheila and Grace had trouble with the car and had to call out the ETA and spent hours in a VW garage.

Day 2 (Saturday 4th August) to South Molton 72 miles.

Tintagel in the mist – magic and bought a sausage roll and Cornish pasty in Boscastle who are raising money for the Yorkshire floods. 5 bottles of water drunk and hot sun from 4pm. I cycled fro 11 hours to do 72 miles – much too long too many hills but still feel good and have now left Cornwall. Given £2 from a passing car “Good on you”

Day 3 (Sunday 5th August) to a farm at Wedmore near Cheddar 69 miles

Massive uphill from North Molton in the hot sun very dispiriting but my back up team turned up trumps by bringing me a sun hat! Spent the rest of the day ‘catching up’ and decided not to cross the Quantocks but skirted round them instead. Given £3 by an elderly woman and was entertained by performing motor bikes who supported me. The B and B which is excellent and then donated £10 to m y trip, is on reclaimed land in the Somerset levels near Bridgewater. The Duke of Monmouth and his rebellion of 1685 is much on my mind, a fascinating period of history for me. I feel like a real End to Ender having done 214 miles in 3 days.

Day 4 (Monday 6th August) to Ross-on-Wye 74 miles

Did 74 miles by 7pm but was 10 miles short of Ross part not leaving from Cheddar, getting lost and this being an extra long leg. My back up team is fed up. Cheddar gorge was a slog and when I got lost it was on a big uphill and skirting around Bristol was not fun. But the Severn Bridge was amazing and cycling through Tintern was a delight as was being on part of the Bath Bristol cycleway. This means an extra 10 miles tomorrow unless I can figure out a quicker more direct route

Day 5 (Tuesday 7th August)to Much Wenlock 59 miles

On my own today as my back up team return to Manchester. I used direct main/B roads through Hereford, Leominster and Ludlow which reduced my journey to 59 miles which still took me until 7 after a late start in Monmouth. Very sluggish at first and I felt sad and saying goodbye to Sheila and Grace. Wished now that I had a group of cyclists with me. Definitely the low point of the trip. Will see about a more direct route from now on. Reached my B and B to get a phone call from Richard who hopes to join me on Friday.

Day 6 (Wednesday 8th August)to Knutsford 72 miles

This proved to be testing. I hoped to find a short route to Manchester and to arrive there before my sister-in-law did on the London train. Despite an early 8.15 start with the sun in my eyes and a good first hour soon my average was below 7 miles per hour and no bakeries for miles. There was helpful traffic warden in Ludlow who saved me some miles and I found a nice Cornish pasty in Market Drayton. By 7pm 3 miles short of Knutsford I had had enough and Sheila picked me up.

I had wondered whether to quit all day but Sheila suggested that I take a 3 day break and then resume from Edinburgh and to do Knutsford to Edinburgh over a long weekend later. It makes some kind of sense to me.

I have a sun burnt ear, sore throat and a swollen lip and am tired but I hope I bounce back!

Day 7 (Thursday 9th August) rested up at home
Day 8 (Friday 10th August) ) restyed up at home
Day 9 (Saturday 11th August)to Peebles

No cycling since Wednesday! 3 days rest up and then cycling again to morrow. The landlady in Peebles donate £15 at this great B and B – . I am touched my people’s generosity and responses to my trip. I really needed this resting up.

Day 10 (Sunday 12th August)to Upper Yetts O'Muckhart(!) near Perth 37 miles

Only 37 miles today from Edinburgh but it took nearly 6 hours. Glad to have a short trip but form now on it will be 70 miles a day. Sheila and Grace spent most of the day in Edinburgh but had trouble driving out. I found a great cycle route just outside Edinburgh to the Forth Road Bridge which was impressive. I felt a bit sluggish but I think much of the route was up hill as it will be tomorrow. Good B and B –

Day 11 (Monday 13th August)to Blair Athol 65 miles

The Maitre D in the hotel a rather severe young woman gave me £10!! It was a great day cycling my best mph so far and wonderful Scottish Highland scenery and the great NCN Route 7 cycle route.

Day 12 (Tuesday 14th August) to Black Isle 80 miles!

80 miles covered at 8 miles an hour! I was daunted by the thought at the start of my trip about hills in Cornwall/Devon and the Scottish Highlands. I was right about Cornwall and Devon but wrong about the Highlands. They were so much easier to cycle in, less pushing up hills and next to no braking on the down hills. NCN Route 7 is a delight – great to be off the dreaded A9 and in forests, cycle tacks, quiet roads etc. A good day all in.

Day 13 (Wednesday 15th August) 12 miles short of Altnahara, 69 miles

Following Sheila suggestion not to climb a steep hill, I followed a delightful coastal route which added too many miles to my journey And cycling in the Black Isle proved to be very slow if enjoyable so I fell short of our B and B which means I probably wont reach John O’Groats tomorrow.

It rained for several hours which did not help – the first time on this trip for full rainproofs including overshoes. Bit of a mindless day for me though there were some memories of early days with Sheila in the family holiday cottage near Ardgay which I passed though.

Day 14 (Thursday 16th August) 59 miles to Reay

Still 32 miles short of John O’Groats. Today was the worst cycling conditions I have ever faced – wind, driving rain, quite dangerous places, blown up hills, sideways and against me sometimes, cold and wet and poor visibility through rain streaked glasses. Managed 59 miles nonetheless.

Day 15 (Friday 17th August) John O’Groats – 32 miles

At 12.10 after just over 3 hours cycling! I wished I could immediately do the missing 220 miles but have still done 762! Brilliant weather mostly just a bit windy in places but otherwise sunshine ands only one brief rain shower. I met other cyclists there – ‘we’ve done it have you?’ ‘Not quite’, I felt a fraud.

I am amazed though at what I have achieved – 340 miles in the last 51/2 days, 762 in 111/2 days about £1000 for Kenya. I didn’t know I could do so much!”

Notes from the car Saturday 18th August

The inner Journey

Some thing unexpected and some things expected came to me.

I felt lonely felt anguish and separation from Sheila and Grace which was unexpected. It felt futile, why do this?

I felt pleasure, achievement, good in myself and in the trip.

I felt bored, empty, tired.

I thought deeply about friends alive and dead.
I thought about some problems I have and gained some insights.

I am thankful to be alive and in one piece. I am thankful for Sheila and Grace. I am thankful especially at the Reay B and B after the awful day. I appreciate the simple things like a warm house, hot shower, bed, tea, food.

Best to all,

Bill on bike

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Learnings for other would-be End to Enders


I thought it might be useful to sum up some of what I have learnt on my LEJOG trip so far:
1) Figure out what kind of mileage you would like to aim for each day and take 10 miles off that figure.
2) This allows for getting lost since I found however clear the directions I was following however clear my maps seemed the actual land was different. Signposts pointed to places not on the map, I passed through places not on signposts. T junctions mysteriously became cross roads and vice versa. National Cycle Network signs suddenly stopped and then would reappear.
3) It also allows for bad weather and steeper than expected hills. Devon and Cornwall were especially bad. I found very steep hills often impossible to climb and then very steep descents where brakes were necessary due to winding lanes with tall hedges. In contrast the feared Highlands of Scotland were a gem to cycle.
4) Expect the unexpected at the least likely time!
5) Be prepared to change you stopover arrangements - treat everything as provisional
6) It was great having a back up crew but tough on them.

If I was doing it again, I would prepare a little bit more in terms of trips over more than one day. I would aim to do only 60 miles in a day and probably join an organised trip to take some of the weight of me and my back up crew.

Having written all of the above my trip so far has been extraordinary, I have gained so much from doing it on many levels and am intensely grateful to my back up team of Sheila and Grace.

More from my travel diary soon,

Best to all,

Bill on bike

Monday, 20 August 2007

Suffering with


One of the surprises of this trip was how much people responded to me. I had a sign on my bike saying "Biking from Lands End to John O'Groats, supporting HIV work in Kenya.

People tooted their car horns regularly and shouted out words of encouragement - 'Go for it' 'Well done'. People twice gave me money out of car windows and strangers regularly approached me on the streets and gave me money. Even 3 of our B and B landlord/ladies gave us money. It was heartening.

I reflected on this as I cycled. Sure there is a response in this to HIV and Kenya which is great. And there is something about me choosing to do this mammoth cycle ride about 1000 miles that people responded to. You will appreciate from the blog picture that I am not lycra clad, nor is my bike light and thin, and I am clearly middle aged and grey.

So it was over 9 hours cycling more or less continuous each day on the bike to do my average of 70 miles. It was fun, tiring, monoteneous, boring, hard work, time stood still and sometimes raced and the inner journey was something else.

Basically it was about suffering, voluntary suffering, suffering with if you like. And I think people responded to this. It was a kind of post modern secular pilgrimage. At times I felt lonely and thought why am I doing this mad thing? It would be much easier just to raise money some other way. But it was there for me to do, a mad (possibly male) thing.

And when it was over at the end of the day I can't tell you how wonderful a warm bed and warm food was. I was so appreciative of the ordinary. I wont forget this for a long time. And nor will my body and nor will my back up team!

Best to all,

Bill on bike

John O'Groats with more to do

Well I reached John O'Groats last Friday but I still have more to do to complete my LEJOG trip as will be apparent from my last posting. It goes like this:
1) I did 421 miles in my first 6 days taking me from Lands End to Knutsford near Manchester.
2) I then took a 3 day break and given the booked B and Bs and the various other arrangements
3) I resumed my trip at Edinburgh and successfully cycled to John O'Groats over the next 5 days covering a further 341 miles.

So I still have about 220 miles to do over a long weekend in the near future.

So I am disappointed not to have done it in one go but delighted to have done over 3/4 of it - 762 miles and confident I can do the rest soon so watch this space.

I'll write more about the trip in the next few days.

Thanks for all your support and especially to my back up team Sheila and Grace.

Best to all,

Bill on bike

Friday, 10 August 2007

Fantastic achievement


Fantastic achievement, no, not my words but those of my fellow would-be travelers Richard and Keith when they heard about my 422 miles in 6 days from Lands End to just short of Knutsford near Manchester.

Tomorrow - Saturday 11th August I will travel with my backup team of Sheila and Grace to Peebles and on Sunday leave from either Peebles or Edinburgh to resume my LEJOG journey to John O'Groats over the following 5 days. This will leave me with a 3 day section from just short of Knutsford (near Manchester) to Peebles or Edinburgh to complete over a long weekend in the near future.

Resting up yesterday and today has been good - my sore throat is disappearing as is the swelling of my lower lip and the sunburn on my left ear. Lots of aches in my legs but I am feeling a whole lot less tired and hopefully by Sunday raring to go again.

Whilst on the bike on Wednesday I re-worded Noel Cowards Mad dogs song:

"Mad dogs and cyclists go out in the midday sun
Walkers wouldn't care to,
Drivers wouldn't dare to..."

More anon, best to all,

Bill soon to be on bike again!

Thursday, 9 August 2007

Bikus interruptus


well a number of you told me so. I have now reached Manchester or rather 3 miles south of Knutsford 421 miles in 6 days and I am cream crackered with a sore ear throat and lips. Sheila says why not take a break and resume the trip on sunday from Peebles and then do the Knutsford to Peebles trip over a long weekend soon. Sounds like a good idea to me.

So what went wrong or rather not as right as it might?
1) 70 miles a day took me longer than anticipated from my training trips. This left not enough time to recover, take stops, make mistakes.
2) Each day following the CTC route I got lost at least once adding a few miles to the trip.
3) There were some brutal hills especially in the route I was following which slowed me down
4) And yes I needed a lighter bike for those damm hills.

But assuming I rest up successfully these next few days I am up for continuing so watch this space!

Now for the better news. People were amazing, stranger gave me £5, £5, £5, £3, £3, £2 - sometimes they came up to me and talked someetimes they gave me money out of car windows occasionally on the move! Many more urged me on with shouts and car horns and a group of bikers performed stunts to entertain me as they passed me by! This all helped.

I did 73, 72, 71 74, 60, 72 miles on the six days and eat lots of mostly delicious Cornish pasties and got sick of Enlgish breakfasts, ate lost of chewy oat, nuts, and dried fruit and 5 bottles of water a day. The weather was fantastic if sometimes a little too hot.

I went into 'Unicorn' mode some of the time - you know allowing ideas and thoughts to turn up to be looked at and I sorted out a few problems I had. I have a few people to speak to and few letters to write as a result. Quite a bit of the time I was mindless just empty and physical but time flowed by. I was never bored. It was a pilgrimage I think. I suffered quite a bit. It is a pure physical slog after all. Maybe I was demonstrating suffering with - compassion - and maybe that produced people positive reactions. It was like having a sign around my neck or rather I had one attached to the bike telling people what I was doing and why - photos to follow.

There were some stunning views of Dartmoor, the Quantocks, the Wrekin, Wenlock Edge, the view from the Severn Bridge, Tintagel in the mist, Tintern Abbey breathtaking. Plenty of places I would have wished to have spent time in and must re-visit on another kind of pilgrimage.

I got lonely when my back up team left me at Ross on Wye I thought then that it was a mad thing I was doing taking me away from them. I still think it is a bit mad but it not that long a time as it happens.

I feel proud to have covered 420 miles so far and look forward to completion. I'll write more in a while.

Best to all,

Bill on bike