This blog was written as journal notes during a ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats (LEJOG), over 1600kms and 9 days in September 2022. It just so happened to coincide with the period of National Mourning for Queen Elizabeth II - a very unique time to be in the UK.
The riding journal is long and intended to capture our own experience and memories. The journal is in two parts: Part I is an overview and summary, and Part II is the day-by-day riding journal with far more detail.
PACKED & READY TO GO
After having the ride in my calendar for over a year, and numerous planning discussions later, I was packed and ready to go. The post COVID travel chaos occuring around the world deserved some paranoia. I had looked into GPS bag tags to keep a track of my essential bags (ie. bike). But, the advice I followed was to check whether my bags had been loaded and logged on the plane just before boarding. Success! And without a plane change to London, this was enough to make a stress-free flight from Sydney. Baggage handling at Heathrow was another potential point of anxiety, and it was only when I was reunited with my checked bags that I could truly relax. Phew!
The bike journey from Land’s End to John O’Groats was a supported ride - organisers carried bags, set up tents each day, and provided high-quality food. Participants could take more than what they were wearing, and really didn’t need to go without too much. Packing for variable weather, which I expected to be 0-20 degrees, and the likelihood of rain, meant packing for all conditions. ‘Don’t overpack’ is what I kept hearing. We opted for a larger luggage allowance, and washing service during the ride, and as is always the case, we used it all.
NOT A RACE
There is a balance between, not spending too many hours each day on the saddle (to maximise resting time), and ensuring that there was time to soak up everything that there is to see riding from the bottom of England to the top of Scotland.
Three of us rode together. Simon, my colleague and friend, and his friend Rob. I had ridden with Simon before. Simon had ridden with Rob before. We knew a colleague, Matt, who was also riding.
Each day was a big day (shortest day 150km, most were 170-180km), and nine of these consecutively, is bigger than we had ridden before. There is not enough training you can do, especially while also working, to be ready physically and mentally. It is definitely something that we all rode into, adapting and adjusting each day.
Before starting, our loose day plan was; start riding early (06:00-06:30), a sit-down lunch stop to refuel, maintain the opportunity to stop to take in the sights, and hit camp by mid afternoon. Simon even brought a book expecting to be relaxing with a beer by 3pm. However, our overall priority was for all of us to complete the entire ride.
TALENT BEYOND BOUNDARIES
Simon initiated this adventure a year ago - something he had always wanted to do since his cousin, when aged 16, completed the journey as a school outing! Its purpose quickly became to raise money and awareness for Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) for this is an organisation that I have become very passionate about.
TBB is the only organisation in the world connecting refugees to international job opportunities. It facilitates labour mobility as a complementary solution to traditional refugee resettlement. We have been personally and professionally involved in supporting Talent Beyond Boundaries (TBB) through this employment pathway since 2019, where we have directly assisted the relocation and professional employment of (so far) five refugees and their families in Australia and the United Kingdom.
At the time of starting the ride, we had raised $23k and Iress had established a five year financial commitment to TBB totalling $750k.
Many physically challenging events have a strong purpose. And the degree of physical challenge involved strengthens the connection with that purpose, and recalling this during the challenge helps to encourage, motivate and build resilience. Before commencing, we intended to enjoy the riding and have fun, but we all knew that this would not be ordinary. It was going to be extraordinary.
What cycling represents for me in my professional career is freedom. The bike allows an escape from everyday schedules and routines, and to enjoy fresh air and to recoup. It also helps build great self-esteem, accomplishment and self-awareness. The imagery of my bike being a freedom machine took a new dimension for this ride. Not only was I riding for my personal freedom, but freedom for skilled refugees who are enabled and transformed by TBB. For me, this was very exciting.
The ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats was a massive achievement. Whether a lifetime goal, or a long cycling adventure, supported or unsupported, the physical and mental challenge was bigger than most avid cyclists might consider, and what a non-cyclist might never contemplate. A longer ride than we had completed before. A massive feat.
Despite the size of the challenge, this ride was inclusive. Participants came from all walks of life, and included all abilities, shapes, sizes, ages, experience, and preparedness. The ride was not full of professional cyclists. Making the journey to John O’Groats simply came down to putting one foot after the other to turn the wheels.
There is great satisfaction in setting an ambitious goal and achieving it. For me, cycling has provided many of these moments. Cycling is a unique way to discover a country as you experience more than you would by any other mode of transport. The visually impaired cyclist on this ride, who rode on a tandem, David Clarke, uniquely described it as that he “heard and smelt the entire country, which was only possible by cycling LEJOG.”
Hemmingway said that “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
There is a mental challenge to believe you can spend nine days riding, but the actual riding was very achievable (assuming at least some ability). In fact, you strengthen during a ride like this and definitely ride into it. The big moments of challenge come from the things you can’t control - external elements such as weather conditions, maintenance, injury. The ability to deal with altered plans and challenges, to respond and adapt physically and mentally, is an important criteria for success.
The exceptionally hot UK summer continued into September which resulted in perfect weather conditions in England. While Scotland had only mild Autumn weather, it was very tough. We have been asked many times about the best and hardest days. Specific ride segments are better to describe, as the best days had tough sections, and the hardest days brought some of the best memories. Far too many to mention now, but are covered in the day-by-day detail in Part II of this blog.
The personal and team challenges of the journey are good reminders of the basic necessities of all achievements - incremental progress, the importance of goals (big goals and small goals), celebrating progress, resilience, communication and the need for honesty between team mates.
Of course this was a ‘never forget’ experience for each of us. Some people want to repeat LEJOG, or return to complete LEJOG, or never want to face that challenge again. Our thinking is that now we have completed that ride, what other country, or other adventure, can we explore?
If you have ever considered pursuing such a goal, we would encourage you to do it. It’s tough, but the rewards are great and life-lasting.
- 1 set of brake pads (for the 3 of us)
- 0 punctures or mechanicals (for the 3 of us)
- SRAM batteries only needed charging once.
- 267 hours and 28 minutes total elapsed time. About 89 hours each. Without sleep, that could have been 3.7 days to complete LEJOG with the same amount of stopping on route.
- 214 hours and 20 minutes total riding time. About 71 hours each. With non-stop riding we could have completed LEJOG in 2.95 days.
- 0 instant coffees consumed
- 150+ Freddo’s for the three of us.
- 7,200 air mats inflated by all participants
- The organisers dealt with 43,000 tent peg interactions, 5000 tents constructions, and moved 150 tonnes of luggage.