E2E Q&A RHETORICAL
Going to LEJoG or JoGLE? Want some advice? No? Well here's Steve Dyster with some anyway, but don’t go taking it too seriously ….
The iconic Great British cycle tour? Rapidly rising in popularity, the shorter more accessible and less time consuming C2C routes have challenged it, but for many touring cyclists the E2E remains top of the list, as a “must do” or “must do, again.”
There is no shortage of advice, no shortage of charities and businesses offering packages and no shortage of cyclists, such as I telling you how to do it. Actually, I won’t. There’s no point. You’ll decide for yourself whether you want to cycle the length of Great Britain to break a record, to raise money, or to survey regional variations in coffee and walnut cake. Of course, there are a wealth of other reasons too.
So, the first question is; why do you want to do it? The “why?” will influence how long you take, what route you choose and who you do it with.
There’ll almost certainly be compromises. How long have you got, how far do you want to ride, what do others in the group want - unless you go solo - where will you stay? Which way will you go to get home most quickly?
So, the second question is; solo, with friends or in an organised group? Your choice, of course. Organised groups will take you along and do most of the prep (except for the training). You’ll meet like-minded people and, even if you do not get on, you don’t have to meet them again. Other people will keep you going if things get tough. Friends will do the same; evening socialising will be readily available; the banter will be good - and you must have one friend who is a decent roadside mechanic, another who has a GPS that holds its charge well and another who can sniff the air and guide the group to the nearest tea-shop with the best value cake to icing ratio.
Haven’t got three friends with bikes? Never mind. I do have a cycling friend, but we nearly fell-out during a fierce row half-way through a trip - the row was about education, but had more to do with a long, muddy, wet day and minor disputes over navigation. Another cycling friend - yes, I have two - was LEJoGing with a group of others. Having crossed the Quantocks, one of the group had, what appeared to be, a minor accident. However, they ended up visiting the local A&E. A few hours later, on doctor’s orders, the trip ended as the group decided that they would not carry on without the colleague who had suffered more serious injury than was, at first, apparent.
Mind you, even getting going may prove a struggle. A friend - one I have already mentioned: I don’t have three - managed to fall-out with the rest of the group as the route was planned. He ended up riding solo and was only able to share his memories with them two years later when they were all back on speaking terms.
Solo has its benefits. Stop as and when, visit places you want to, ride as fast or slow as you wish. Perfect for the self-contained, meditative, independent-minded cyclist, as well as the grumpy, cantankerous and unsociable.
Third question; how long have I got? This may be dictated by work or the “group” or your desire to get into the record books, but could equally be a question of relationships. Two weeks off from the work may be easier to achieve than domestic bliss is to maintain. Lucky folk like me have a spouse and family who are, generally, happy to say, “On your way.” I take this in the nicest sense. On the other hand absence can be overdone.
Fourth question; how can I make sure there is space in the panniers or saddle-bag for some nice presents for the family so that I can go and do that C2C we sort of discussed two weeks after I get back from this E2E?
As far as I have seen, everyone packs too much and sends some gear home as they go. So, try not to overload yourself. Do not miss out on vital equipment; waterproofs, overshoes and gloves (hopefully unnecessary), tool kit and tubes (likewise) and small first-aid kit (again, hopefully ignored at the bottom of the pannier). Think, will you be able to wash gear and leave it to dry overnight and whether you really need that teddy-bear (remember, the latter may have been given to you by darling off-spring in expectation of photos of teddy’s big adventure - think on!)
For retrophiles like me, writing paper, envelopes, fountain pen and ink, are necessary - letters home are the key to the next getaway as well as, of course, expressing how much I am missing the Missus. I may be missing the children, too, but they seem to care less; the dog misses me most, but can’t read.
By the way, though written from a male perspective, this is not misogynistic; when the Missus goes away, I miss her and she finds ways of ensuring I’ll not kick up a fuss next time. So much better to do the trip as a family - if they all like the idea … and cycle at my pace … and do not want to stay in expensive hotels …. umhh.
By the way, gifts should not be posted; they should be delivered directly on returning home and, in my view, after clasping beloved-one in arms and expressing deepest affection and thanks. Just to be clear, this should be done before you unload and clean you beloved bicycle. It matters not what your gender (or theirs); your next trip may depend on it.
Very practically, I recommend you keep stocked up on water and snacks. “In the Highlands never pass a shop without restocking,” was a byword amongst cyclists. The decline of the village shop and pub means that you may find limited opportunities to stock-up almost anywhere in rural areas. Having said that, it is an opportunity to support small businesses when you see them. There are some gems, too. Advertised, the last time it was up for sale, as a ”lifestyle choice”, The Crask Inn, on the road from Lairg to Altnaharra, is one such. As isolated and lonely spot as you’ll find on an ‘A’ road; take the chance to support someone else’s lifestyle.
There were at least three questions there, so let us move directly to question seven; where to stay. One of the big pros to going solo is that there is less of a need to plan accommodation. Bed and board for one is easier to find than for even a small group. One of the cons of solo travel is that hotels and B&Bs often have no single rooms and may not give a discount for single occupancy. Of course, there are hostels - I used these on all but one night of my first E2E. Camping means more, but greater freedom and the chance to pitch up in a wild spot in the evening and wake up to a breathtaking view next morning.
The budget also comes into consideration here.
Camping and hotels reduce the risk of being asked about your ride, in my experience (though they do not rule it out), whilst hostels and B&Bs are more likely to encourage conversation. Of course, you may like to tell people about your trip, and not just because you are riding to raise funds for a noble cause.
Depending on your character and point pf view - which may change as you ride on - there are a some questions to which one may wish to prepare answers. Cyclists are commonly asked where they are going. Ignoring the meta-physical aspects of this, there are practicalities. Should one let on that one is E2Eing? Superstitious cyclists tell me that they feel that declaring the final destination is unlucky and likely to lead to disaster, whether that declaration is made in Penzance or with the Pentland Firth in sight. However, if one is heading north and has reached, say, Ludlow, saying that the destination is Shrewsbury fails to communicate the grandeur of your ambition.
The next question is often, “What are you doing it for?” This generally means, “Which charity are you raising money for?” The popular perception is that you must be fund-raising. When I explained that I was not being sponsored, there were puzzled looks. “Getting fit, are you?” No, I was pretty fit already - just cycling fit. “Losing weight?” Well, yes, but that was not the reason. Trying to get over that it was just something that I wanted to do because I wanted to ride my bicycle the length of this island took some time - and often caused obvious disappointment.
I expect you will answer the same question in different ways to different people at different times on different days. If you don’t, then “Chapeau!”
Final question, but two: which route is best? Don’t ask me. I have not done them all. There are lots of sources of information - some of which are given below - but I’m not sure I would follow any one of them to the letter.
The good news is that, despite what one or two claim, there is no official route. Being of the anarchist tendency when it comes to cycling, I am loathe to lay down rules. Even so, some may feel that a route undertaken by a friend - blimey, there are three of them - using ferries between Ilfracombe and Swansea, Fishguard and Rosalie, Ballycastle and Campbeltown, Oban and Castlebay, and various others back to the mainland at Ullapool, was a little more than out of the ordinary.
Needless to say, if you want to be a record-breaker you will go the shortest way with the fewest major climbs; if you want to visit ice-cream parlours you will go via the best you can find; if you wish to see the best of the countryside will follow country lanes; if you plan your accommodation in hostels and book in advance you will follow a “hostelling” route or, if you are a member of warmshowers.org your hosts will define your route.
My first preference was Land’s End - Penzance-Boscastle-Crowcombe Heathfield- Monmouth-Wilderhope Manor- Chester-Inglelon-Moffat-Stirling-Inverness-Tongue-John o’Groats; using YHA and SYHA hostels (some now closed) and almost all on country lanes. I timed the trip to pass through industrial South Lancashire on a Sunday.
Penultimate question; to book or not to book, that is the question; whether it is nobler to cycle miles in the rain at the end of the day in search of a place to lay one’s head or to have a set destination. There are advantages to both, but groups are likely to prefer to have accommodation booked for pretty much the whole trip; others may well see how far they get and either book ahead during the day - often tourist offices will do this for you - or wait until the end of the day. Mind you, if you turn up at Altnaharra and the hotel is full, then you’ll have a pleasant evening ride on to Tongue; likewise seeking accommodation in Ingleton in the middle of the summer hols can be quite a challenge. Time of year and local events can have a big impact on the last minute accommodation situation; that folk music festival may be enticing, but may have also filled the accommodation.
Supplementary; should it be done in one trip? To break an E2E up into several shorter tours may be a necessity. In my opinion doing so spoils the unity of the journey; completing the trip in one go is more spiritually fulfilling, more satisfying when one reaches the end.
Final question; finishing? Unless you are part of an organised group or have a fan club waiting, there’ll be no one to celebrate your achievement except you. There may be some congratulations from other visitors, but few will understand the emotions that you will feel or the sense of satisfied sadness that can fill the heart at the end of days of cycling. Make the most of it.
And don’t forget to spare some time to get home, it is a long way for most people. Still, you’ll be fit and you have a bike …. and why not cycle for just one more day, or two ….
The Cycling UK (lately the CTC) pack http://www.cyclinguk.org/article/cycling-guide/lands-end-to-john-ogroats
A quick google will turn up a mass of books on E2E rides. Here are some guides, with different perspectives.
Nick Mitchell, The End to End Cycle Route (Cicerone)
Rob Richardson/Sustrans Land’s End to John o’ Groats on the National Cycle Network (Sustrans)
Royston Wood has written Land’s End to John o’ Groats - Cycling the Google Route and Land’s End to John o’Groats End to End Cycle Route A Safer Way (Create space independent Publishing Platform)
Phil Horsley Land’s End to John o’Groats - the Great British Cycling Adventure (Cordee)
PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 2017