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VIDEO VIDEO VIDEO

 
The first of a number of short video clips covering incidents on the bike ride are now online via YouTube. Click on the link below to watch…
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More Photos

If you have not yet had a chance to look at Bob Bending’s photos taken during his two day ride with us then please follow this link to his online album.

http://www.bendingtherules.co.uk/bikes/LeJog_2006/LeJog_2006.html

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day 24 & 25

A short entry just to update you on the return journey. We left at 7.36 am on Saturday 2nd September and arrived in Tadley at 12.47 am this morning. The traffice wasn’t too bad excepting for a few roadwork snarl-ups. Stuart and Martyn shared the driving whilst Paul and I sat round in main cabin of the van. I spent a number of hours with my head pressed against the window of the van in the hope that a bit of sunshine might remove the zebra-like stripes I have acquired from my helmet. The rays of the sun gently tanned the exposed bits of my scalp over the 23 days of the ride causing a two-tone pattern to emerge.
 
Thanks to our drivers for their hard work in returning everyone safely home.
 
Once we unpacked the van onto the manse driveway Stuart was finally able to get back to his former life. I packed Martyn and Paul’s kit into my car, plus my dog Doogle, and we then did a round robin tour dropping Martyn off and the to Winchester to return Paul to his place. Doogle kept me company for the return leg, and we got back at 2.30 am. I luxuriated in the comfort of a warm bath for a few minutes before hitting the pillow and a short night’s sleep in my own bed.
 
At precisely 6.30 am my eyes opened – but quickly closed again. I had for a moment thought I had some more cycling to do, but a check on my location reminded me that those days are now over. 6.30 am is of course the time Stuart normally woke us up with his morning routine each day (see previous blog entry for details).
 
I re-surfaced again at a more leisurely hour and prepared for Church. My Anglican colleague Barry Norris led the Service whilst I took time to reflect on LEJOG. I had an opportunity to say a few words to everyone during the Service, and a whole lot more after the Service.
 
In a subsequent phone call to Paul he said that for him LEJOG was now over, but for me the next few months would see the bike ride revisited over and over. I am sure I will be asked to talk about the experience and to show the photos and video outtakes. I look forward to this aspect of the ride, because it has taught me a lot and was a journey well worth making.
 
Gavin
 
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day 23

 
Mission Complete!
 
We arrived on schedule – 1st September 2006 – at 12.45 pm – after a fast 50 miles cycle started at 8 am near Forsinard.
 
The departure had been timed earlier than usual in the hope that we might foil the midges. Sadly, not. They were back at the windows by 5.30 am, and stayed until Stuart drove the hearse away at 8.20 am. I say hearse because the campervan at that stage contained 100’s of dead bugs lost through being swatted, sprayed, or deaded using some other method.
 
It was a tricky departure for the cyclists. We were being held captive by the swarms of insects baying for our blood on the other side of the vehicle walls. Problem was that lots of our gear had been left out overnight when we made a hasty retreat into the van at nightfall.
 
Paul decided he was tough enough to withstand the onslaught, and complete with a net of sorts (one of my see through T Shirts 😉 over his head he charged outside whilst we emptied half a can of Raid at the open entrance to ward of our attackers.
 
Does this sound like I am being over dramatic? Truth is – I’m not. It was that bad.
 
Paul fumbled around outside collecting up shoes, kitbags, shoe inners, gloves, etc. He raced back to the van and passed the items through an opening in the mesh door (as mentioned yesterday the mesh is too big to stop the tiny midges). Paul then raced around some more to gather the remainder. By the time he returned to the door he was covered from head to toe in thousands of insects. It was like a scene from the movie The Swarm.
 
Before letting him in we got him to shake off as many as he could, a total waste of time. Then, with the remaining half can of Raid we opened the door and blasted him as he came in. The van filled with bugs in seconds – and in a few more seconds  we dispatched them to a higher place.
 
We put on our kit, stood in a row like parachutists about to jump, and then when the green light (metaphorically speaking) went on, it was go, go, go. I had swapped my helmet for a scarf-like hat I had in my possession. It was pulled completely over my face and I could only just see through the weave of the material. I spotted my bike in the grass, grabbed it and ran with it 50 meters up the road, hoping that in doing so I would be in a midge free zone.
 
Not so. They had figured out our plan for departure. Swarms were waiting. I ran a further 50 meters whilst still wearing my balaclava like hat. If there were locals, and of course its so remote that there are no locals, but if there were, they would be forgiven for thinking that a van robbery had just taken place.
 
We all regrouped once clear of the insects, and looked back helpless as Stuart opened the campervan door and allowed the bugs to settle on his Michelin man outfit. This outfit had been put together minutes earlier in readiness for the tasks he would have to perform.
As we had departed from the van we noticed that the tool boxes were still out, and the bike workstand, plus a few other heavy items. Stuart would have to contend with these by himself. We rode into the distance feeling a fair bit guilty.
 
The ride was pleasant enough, mainly through forests, but on good quality dirt roads that enabled us to make good time. I phoned Eleanor to say that our arrival time would need to be re-scheduled from 3pm to 1pm. It caused a bit of a problem because her family were still in town shopping. Understand that in these parts “town” means "a place far away".
 
To give her more time we stopped at a pub in Watten for a coffee at 11am. Thereafter it was back to the task at hand – getting to John O’ Groats. We completed the final few miles across the now nearly flat terrain. It was both exhilarating and surprising to cross the final hill.
 
Coming over the brow we were suddenly faced with a stunning view of the Orkney Islands, much closer to shore than I had ever expected.
Just as we navigated the final bends I noticed a commotion alongside me – a car was overtaking but not overtaking, if you see what I mean. I looked to my right and found my view blocked by a young person wielding a video camera. It was Lucy, Eleanor’s daughter. They had just arrived and were determined to beat us to the finish point.
 
I waved them past (have developed a certain blasé about doing this for motorists) and in any case pulled over to the side because I had just spotted a road sign announcing that we were now at the end of the road.
 
Photoshoot, followed by a quick confab about riding in together, no one front wheel ahead of the other. Warnings were issued that if anyone went for a sprint finish they would be spoken about in negative terms until the end of their lives – and possibly beyond expiry as well.
Then, with a flick of the pedals, we rolled towards the finish line.
 
Eleanor was there, having just managed to rush into the souvenir shop to purchase small bottles of whisky and tot glasses to match. They were handed over and in my case, quickly used up. Next it was time for the official photographer to do his thing. We followed this somewhat unique experience with a coffee at the souvenir shop. Paul purchased 30 postcards and I purchased a more realistic 4. He settled in for another coffee and started writing. I headed for the campervan and sat down.
 
Later in the afternoon, and after the rain, I headed off to do a spot of gift shopping.
 
We were collected by Eleanor’s husband, Julian, at 6.30 pm and whisked off to her brother Malcolm’s home in Lyth. A huge meal awaited us, top quality country cooking. Thanks Susan!
 
So, here we are, its Saturday morning, and I am tasked with finishing the blog entry. Around me the activity is manic, washing up, packing, eating, drinking tea, etc. I still need to do all that, but the blog readers are already upset enough that I did not press the publish button last night. Sorry folks. The party just would not wait!
 
We have a 16 hour drive ahead – Paul and Martyn alternating at the wheel of the left-hand-drive 7.5 litre diesel engine. Not as powerful as my thigh muscles currently are. Whether they will stay that way will have to be seen.
 
Signing off for now – a possible further blog entry tomorrow though – so watch this space
 
Gavin, Martyn, Paul, Stuart.
SUCCESSFUL LEJOG OFFROADERS
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day 22

Midges, billions of the bug – gers, hovering around our campervan sniffing the faint human odours (of which there are plenty now) seeping through tiny seams in the fuselage of the vehicle. All the windows are shut. We learnt at cost that the midges are small enough to easily climb through the netting.
 
 So, stuffy air, wafts of whisky, mars bars, socks soaked in bog, all working in conjunction with a stiff breeze blowing across the nearby loch, sending out a stream of scent along which tiny feelers are navigating in search of a bit of us.
 
Day 22 is over. One more day to go. A mixed bag of emotions I guess. I am enjoying the cycling, the open surroundings, at one with nature and all that. We have a routine that works. It allows us to eat as much as we want. Breakfast for instance… Porridge, followed by more porridge. Then a bowl of cereal. Next up, beans, bacon and fried egg. Two slices of toast, jam, and at least 2 cups of tea. We snack energy bars throughout the day, eat 3 sandwiches and cake, plus of course any delicacies we discover on the way. Scones, shortbread, chips, bacon butties, all these have found their way onto our daily plates at some stage. Supper at the end of the day of course, two courses, repeated, as in seconds.
 
So as you can see, this cycling thing has its plus points. Granted, we have to sit on our rear-ends and pedal all day long, bumping over uncountable rocks, stones, roots, logs, etc. But on a culinary basis it is certainly worth the effort. 
 
However tasty it may seem, the routine does not allow for family, friends, pets, day to day suburban life. Strangely, it feels a bit threatening to be going back to all the responsibilities and decisions, etc. I am not threatened by the people, I really miss them, and the pets. Its all the rest that seems heavy.
 
Here life is straight forward. At home there are all sorts of extras. Some I am looking forward to! Others, probably not so much.
 
Take for instance the matter of the allotment. A failed crop, severe hayfever, and lots of necessary training for the bike ride, all these things have meant that I have not managed to tame the weeds that have enjoyed years of freedom seeding the plot I was allotted. The landlord is after me – want’s to know what I intend for the future. The neighbours have probably been at him. Oh dear, real life stuff – will I have the gumption to sort out the problem, even if it means submitting my resignation from the allotment family?
 
See what I mean. With that kind of pressure – I’d rather be cycling!
 
I suppose you want to know a bit about the ride today. Well, despite the TF of just 18, it was hard work. We waded through miles of bog. There was a path, but it was underwater and undermud. The landlady at Crask Inn, last outpost before we set off into the boglands, said that we would be able to find the way. She did not predict my mini disaster at 1 mile. Seeing a large muddy puddle, I decided to risk the unseen and to cycle forth into the gunge. Bad move. Half way in and the front wheel jammed up – leaving me no option but to slowly topple like a felled tree.
 
Bracing for the impact I put out my hands, only to see them disappear until I was up to my elbows in it. Add one leg in the drink, one side, and half a bike. I had no option but to pose for a photo before fighting through the undergrowth and rinsing off in the river. 
 
We were far from anyone as we cycled from one isolated valley to the next. The views were stunning, not for general consumption, making the opportunity to be in these places something of a privilege. If you want to see them you will need to start offroad cycling, or go hunting at an expensive hunting lodge – they are the only buildings/signs of life in the area.
 
Once we cleared the bogland we encountered much more civilised farm roads that allowed us to make full use of the tailwind hastening us on to our destination for the night – Forsinard. I spotted Stuart’s van from about 2 miles away, and charged forth with renewed strength to get to the snacks tin he puts out on the table for us to peck at.
 
Not long after arriving the bugs came out, and we went in. I am breathing Raid fumes as I type. Stuart is keen to use it and we are too scared to complain. His answer if we do complain will probably be along the lines of, “if you don’t like it – go outside”. No thanks!
Paul has opted to sleep indoors tonight – a wise move. I suspect he will have to do the same tomorrow night. It seems the bugs are everywhere.
 
Time to upload this blog entry, and then to sleep. We have another 56 miles to cover and a celebratory meal to enjoy.
 
Gavin
 
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day 21

I write this entry on the morning of day 22, given that last night I went to bed at 8.30 pm. The reason, to be honest, was that I had imbibed 2 pints of beer. Add that to the tasty dinner enjoyed at the Nip Inn, in Lairg, and you have a recipe for sleep.
 
Day 21 began with relatively easy cycling, and a sense that life would be great if only we could trust the toughness factor rating of 18 (compared to some of route TF’s of 42 and above).
 
We were back from the day’s ride by 4 pm, which suggests that the riding was in fact a lot easier than usual. The significant aspect of the journey had to be the sense of remoteness. We crossed a large tract of highland terrain, gentle hills covered in heather, bracken, and possibly a well camouflaged deer/ deer stalker or two.
 
The trail conditions were sufficiently good for us to be able to cycle 99% of the time. Bumpy jeep tracks, dry, and relatively well used by hunters in their 4×4’s, meant that we could make a good time. Once we arrived at Lairg we showered and then scouted the village. Half the shops were closed down, or boarded up. Paul spotted an internet café and he headed in that direction to recover email. Apparently the café comprised a single computer on broadband, and a parallel hair cutting service.
 
The shops have peculiar opening and closing times. We noticed a pattern that hypothetically suggests people are circulating their working day by popping up in different guises and times to run the various shops.
 
The Nip Inn, serving meals from 6 pm to 8.30 pm. produced excellent quality cooking, and coupled with the beer ensured we were well caloried for today. 50 miles to cover, and through even more remote countryside.
 
Paul is outside swatting midges, Stuart is tidying up, Martyn is getting changed, and I am falling behind. Better go and do the morning routine.
 
Gavin
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day 20

“Fighter Control, this is Fighter jet Delta Romeo Alpha Mike, seeking permission to drop to an altitude of 100ft for  high speed low level flight across Loch Ness”. 
 
“Fighter jet Delta Romeo Alpha Mike, this is Fighter Control. Permission given, descend to 100 ft for a high speed low level flight across Lima November. Take your aircraft down the middle of the Loch”.
 
“Fighter jet Juliet Oscar Charlie Kilo, this is Fighter Control.  Take up your position alongside Fighter jet DRAM and accompany. Stay above 300 ft and skim the edge of the Loch”.
 
In unison, “Roger Fighter Control, DRAM and JOCK descending”.
 
“This is Fighter Control – Lessie if you can wake Nessie!!! It’s time to Shake, Rattle, and Roll”
 
A few seconds later…
 
“Mayday, Mayday, this is Fighter jet Juliet Oscar Charlie Kilo declaring an emergency. I have acquired a mysterious foreign object on my fuselage…”
 
“Fighter jet JOCK, this if Fighter Control. Is the mysterious object grey in colour, with tail, flippers and a long neck?!”
 
“Fighter Control, this is JOCK – not quite…"
 
"It’s a bloke on a mountain bike. He’s ramped off the edge of the mountain, pulled an air brake manoeuvre and landed on my plane. Wait a minute – he’s scrawling something on my canopy using a strawberry energy bar high in colourant”.
 
Fighter jet JOCK, this is Fighter Control. Did you say he’s high on colourants?"
 
" Negative, Negative. I can’t make out what the message says because it’s back to front…"
 
“JOCK, its DRAM here, I can read the words from my upside down Topgun style inverted flying position”.
 
“It says – John O Groat’s NOW – or you and Nessie end up in the same puddle!”
+++++
A true story, but not quite. It is true that as we cycled along the tree line high above Loch Ness we saw and then heard the approach of two fighter jets flying at very low level over the water. We also believe it to be true that they were attempting to wake Nessie or similar.
The bloke on the bike… Well I did think about it for a while. But my top speed of 33.5 miles per hour down one of the tracks was no match for the Mach 1 of the aircraft.
 
I did wish that I could find a faster way to get to JOG. It had something to do with the punishing climbs we endured today. Starting off from Fort Augustus we had false ideas that the cycling would be easier. But after a few nasty surprises we realised that the route inventor was serious when he mentioned a total height of 6000 ft ascent for the day.
 
The three worst climbs were located
1/ behind the “last gift shop for 35 miles” at Invermoriston
2/ the ridiculously steep hill going to Upper Drumbuie
3/ a long section of the Great Glen Cycle Route in between the other two nasties.
 
When I finally arrived at our campsite in Contin I had a shower, ate supper, then collapsed into bed at 8.45 p.m.
 
I lay comatose for an hour before waking up to write the draft for my blog entry.
 
I noticed that my heart was pounding and was palpitating, skipping its job about five to seven times in a minute (It could just be doing a double beat).
 
The point is, its angry and its fatigued.
 
So, time I said good night, time I rested up, for there are three more days to go, and no Jock or Dram to do the remaining distance for me.
 
I shall leave out, but just mention the two mile trek through mud we had to contend with at the top of Drumbuie. Fun for boys of all ages!
 
Bye for now
 
Gavin
 
 
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day 19

“Did you do that for us?” asked the two walkers. “No”, I replied. “What you just saw was a genuine controlled crash”. 
 
The incident referred to happened on the steep slopes of a mountain between Glen Coe and Kinlochleven. I had been enjoying the descent, concentration at 100% as I picked my route through the rocks and ruts. Just prior to encountering the two gents making their way up the hill, the trail conditions changed suddenly. A rocky outcrop caused the track to drop and fade. The routing was now a matter of going wherever gravity dictated. My bodyweight shifted forward, too far forward for my liking. At the same time this was happening, I broke my concentration to assess the fact that the two walkers were suddenly in front and below my position. Brakes on, but to no avail.
The wheels were losing traction and the wet rock surface was not helping matters. I knew in an instant that measures would be needed to resolve the situation. I locked the back brake, causing the bike to slide out from underneath me. At the same time I was hastily unhinging my shoes from the cleated pedals and beginning to look at where I might disembark from the bike. Remember that this was all happening very quickly and on a steep rocky surface. Somehow I managed to drop the bike, leaping clear of the tubing, wheels, etc. and returned to earth on my feet, running. A few hops and skips later and I was stationary again, surveying what had just happened.
 
The walkers were surprised by my sudden dismount, and I doubt they had any inkling as to what had just happened. But once we had a chat and I explained the circumstances they were more much aware of the challenge that off-road cycling presents.
 
They made a comment about whether I planned to go far. I answered that I was busy riding from Land’s End to John O’ Groats, offroad. The response did my ego a whole lot of good. Phrases like, “complete nutter”, “wicked” and “good luck” all served to dust me off and get me back on my bike.
 
Over the course of the day I noticed how the moment my concentration went anywhere other than thinking about the immediate I became prone to small errors of judgement that resulted in wrong choices. Not sure what to infer from this in terms of life beyond cycling!
 
As for the day’s ride, we were driven to the starting point at the Glen Coe Ski Station. It was pouring with rain, cold and very windy. We rode along the road for a while in order to warm up, and then began our assault on the mountain pass above the Kings House Hotel. This would take us all the way to Kinlochleven and a welcome tea break at the Ice Factor, an indoor climbing centre complete with a squash court sized refrigerator that produces an ice wall for climbers to practice on. Paul, being the ice climbing type, did not want to leave the premises. Just before we reached Kinlochleven, Paul’s chain snapped. He freewheeled a mile or so downhill into the town where we then had the task of repairing the broken link.
 
Once we did get away we worked hard to regain altitude for the run into Fort William. It took a while, but did give us a good view of Glen Nevis. Tea again, and then shopping in the bike shop. Then we set off along the Great Glen Cycle Route for our final destination, Fort Augustus. It was 30 miles of Loch side cycling, and the terrain was very easy to contend with, bar a few steep uphill’s. We were also cycling alongside the Caledonian Canal, and I found it amusing to be pedalling alongside ocean going vessels.
 
Stuart was there to meet us at the campsite and we enjoyed a good vegetable pasta bake with rice pudding and apricots for dessert. Everyone was in bed by 10 p.m.
 
The promise of day 20 is that the going gets easier as we head towards JOG. Perhaps it will be an earlier end to the day than we have had thus far.
 
Gavin
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day 8 – long overdue

An enormous day starting at 8 a.m. and finishing at 7.30 p.m. For most of the time we were either pedalling or pushing up very steep hills and across miles of forest track, in thick fog and relentless rain.
 
Only 2 miles into the journey we came to a sign stating “Route Closed, By Order, Unexploded Munitions have been found in the area”. We selected an alternative way to get to a point further up the track where we assumed it would be safe to continue on our original route. After negotiating a tough ascent through miles of forest track we came to a gate bearing the same message, albeit with the addition of an explanation that the munitions were unexploded 2nd world war mortars and that the area had been used as a mortar range for many years. The sign added that whilst we were not to enter, if we did so, it would be at our own risk.
 
With that bit of good news we slung our bikes straight over the chained gate and headed off along what appeared to be a well used track. A few hundred meters on the track had dwindled to a mark on the grass, and shortly after that it ended altogether. The mist had settled over us, but we had just enough time to get a compass bearing on a trig point set upon a distant hill. With that bearing dialled in we fought our way across open moorland (complete with hidden unexploded mortars of course) towards an invisible destination.
 
Occasionally we came upon burnt out circles in the peat, leaving the mind free to wonder if some poor sheep, or cyclist for that matter, had met with an unexpected demise. Treading with the grace and lightness of a royal ballet dancers the three clumsy men in tights pirouetted their way to safety.
 
Our stop for coffee at Knighton is worth blogging.
 
Arriving in the town we headed up a pedestrianised zone towards a sandwich bar. Once there we set up outside using the somewhat damp table and chairs plus umbrella.  Coffee and sandwiches were ordered and brought to us by a rather tipsy gent. Just as he began asking us about our cycling the rain started pelting down. “Fancy a flat” he asked.
 
Paul, who had just arrived after having gone to the library to check his emails, looked on with surprise, and sent a glare in the man’s direction, thinking that he was threatening violence towards our bikes. “A flat” the man reiterated, “we have one vacant downstairs should you wish to stop cycling and have a rest”.
 
Maybe not…
 
All in all a very big day and one that we paid the price for that night when we turned up at Much Wenlock.
 
The decision was that we would eat out. We found place at an Indian curry. Each of us were so hungry that we ordered way too much food.
Still, we managed to eat it all; and the walk back the campsite in total darkness.
 
I was like a zombie.
 
Nice one guys
 
Gavin
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