Of all the cycles I have undertaken, this was the longest in the planning and yet the one I was least prepared for.
Perhaps that is a little unfair. The truth is, I was planning for a cycle ride, not this particular one. After riding from one end of the country to the other for the third time I decided it was time to turn my hand to something else, or at least turn my pedals down a different track.
Why, you might ask, had I ridden the length of the country on three occasions? Believe me, I have asked myself the same question many times, most notably during the rides themselves, in particular on any long uphill drags (and towards the end of each day any uphill drag is long). But I have a justifiable answer that should keep the men in the white coats at arm’s length a while longer.
You see, when I first cycled end-to-end, as it is known, from John O’Groats to Land’s End, it was a ‘once in a lifetime’ challenge. I set about the planning and it became surprisingly tricky, with much more to think about than I had at first envisaged. Eventually I found everything I needed but it was a bit of a struggle to piece it all together to my satisfaction (I’m not a chuck some bits in a bag and follow my nose type, quite the opposite). After the ride I decided to collate all of the information I had discovered whilst planning and put it in one place to make life a little easier for future end-to-enders and created the website: www.landsend-to-johnogroats.co.uk.
I thought that was the end of my end-to-end experience but no. I started to receive emails from people thanking me for the site, which was great, but I was alarmed to find that some were considering following the route I had ridden. This frightened me because it was a dangerous route, using busy main roads, some of them dual carriageways. It was also boring for huge stretches and was not the best way to enjoy cycling the length of the country. I had only selected it because I needed to complete the ride in six days.
To overcome the problem I decided to find a safer route for people to follow. It started by riding the route that Google Maps spat out when I entered Land’s End as the start point and John O’Groats as the finish, with routing set for cycling. That route was good, much better than my previous route, but it still had some very hairy sections. Hence the third trek across the country, to iron out the wrinkles in the route and test ride it.
So, with all of that behind me, I was keen to try something different. But what? There were so many rides that I could try.
Needing some way to whittled down the options I thought back to my end-to-ends and decided that the most annoying part of each was the travel to the start and from the finish. I’m not the world’s best traveller and find it stressful. I am always anxious until I get to my destination. I guess it is being out of control or at least not in control. On a bike it is pretty much up to me if I get to my destination on time or not but it seems just about anything can delay a train or a plane. Anyway, time cooped up travelling to the start or from the finish is time not spent on the bike: wasted.
So, I concentrated on rides I could tackle door to door and soon reduced it down to two main contenders: All English Counties (a route cycling through every county in England) or Roscoff – Santander (via the ferry in Plymouth which sailed to both destinations, the former in northern France and the latter in northern Spain).
The UK cycle had the advantage that I was fairly conversant with the language whilst I was decidedly not au fait with French. This had been proven time and time again on our family trip to France shortly after completing the third end-to-end. However, the continental ex-ploit was only about half the distance of the All English Counties and would therefore offer the opportunity of nipping into the Pyrenees and tackling a couple of the icon climbs. This was something I have always been keen to experience so that I can fully appreciate the efforts of the grand tour riders as they battle on the unforgiving slopes.
Being unable to make a choice I decided to put it to the vote. My website provided the platform and I set up a poll. It was a close run thing, with the lead swapping from week to week as the votes came in.
In the meantime I began researching. I read up on the counties of England and started thinking about how I could celebrate each as I cycled through; pasties in Cornwall, hotpot in Lancashire, scrumpy in Somerset etc. I perused other writers’ scribblings about cycling through France and started looking at the relative costs of the two ventures. I dabbled with routes and discovered that neither would be easy to plan. The All English Counties route would be very complex, needing to enter every county whilst minimising the overall distance and keeping to safe roads, lanes and tracks. Similarly, the route through France and Spain would be tricky to plan because my preferred routing tool, Google Maps, did not provide the same level of coverage as it does in the UK.
I dithered and prevaricated, something inside not allowing me to choose. My final end-to-end was now months behind me and, in hindsight, it was probably my body telling me I wasn’t fit enough for either ride, trying to prevent me from punishing it because, other than commuting to work three times a week (about a 20 miles round trip), I had not set a tyre to tarmac since.
Before I knew it, the time had slipped away and my booked week of leave from work was on the horizon. There was no time to complete the planning for either route and certainly no time to train my body to the required level of fitness to ride them comfortably. At the last minute I was going to have to try something else.
Whilst planning for the All English Counties route I had obtained a map showing Sustrans National Cycle Network, a network of cycle routes throughout the UK that utilises quiet roads and lanes, cycle paths, canal towpaths and footpaths. I studied it for some time and discovered that it was possible to cycle from Lowestoft, the most easterly part of England, to St David’s, the most westerly tip of Wales, using just three of the routes; Regional Route 30 and National Routes 1 and 4. Instead of riding from end-to-end I could ride from side-to-side [which is where the title to this book comes from, not weaving drunkenly home from the pub – that’s a different story entirely].
Starting in Lowestoft meant that I couldn’t cycle door to door but if I cycled home from St David’s then at least I would only have to travel to the start. Planning would be easy because the route was already there. All I had to do was map it out and convert it to a gpx route so that I could follow it on my Garmin 800 [cycling specific satellite navigation device]. In theory there should have been signs all along the route but I knew from experience that I would soon miss one of those and be lost without a map; and I would have no room in my bag for a wodge of maps.
Other than that, all I had to do was book a B&B for the end of each day’s ride and a train to the start.
So, after the best part of a year wasted in planning the wrong routes I only had a week left to get myself ready. Perhaps it was not so surprising that I was under prepared.