Day 6 – Bude to Lands End
100 miles separating us from glory. Most people from this point would probably take the easy route. Straight down the A roads, avoiding the rugged coastline. Most people aren’t morons like us. Apparently the direct route was only 90 miles, and it was argued that anything under 100 miles wouldn’t be worth it. Brilliant.
But we had an ace up our sleeve today, in the form of a fourth musketeer, Katie. No longer would we be subjected to each others terrible chat for hours on end. With someone new to talk to, the miles would surely fly by, with the finish line so close now.
Loading our bikes for the last time felt like a win in itself – now all the was required was pedaling until we got to the end. After such a late finish, a luxury 7AM departure was scheduled (actual leaving time, 7:10), which meant we barely needed our lights before dawn broke.
Katie’s initial apprehension about riding with us quickly melted away when she realised we were all absolutely done in. Rosco told us he felt like his achilles was being slowly carved with a knife, worried it may snap at any moment. Jack’s dodgy knee which he’d done a decent job ignoring all week was in agony. I was just slow, full stop.
That, combined with the fact that our bikes were double their weight with all our kit meant that the only thing Katie should really be worried about is freezing to death whilst having to wait for us.
Naively, I thought that the final leg would be an absolute cakewalk, and so neglected to look at the route or elevation profile in any detail, assuming it would just be a day full of jovial high jinks. What a rookie error.
It all started nicely enough, a gentle tickle of the pedals and some light hearted chat. Katie had kindly volunteered to weigh her bike down by carrying some extra water for us. A couple of gentle climbs to wake up the legs and lungs.
We then turned a corner and saw the Millook climb staring us in the face – one of the UK top 100. With an average gradient of 12% and a maximum of well over 20, this one is an absolute brute. Mentally unprepared, we launched ourselves at the steep section.
Suddenly I feel like I’m doing a max 2 minute effort rather than a long-distance cycle, heaving away in my smallest gear, grinding to a near halt. For a fleeting moment, I don’t think I’m going to make it. Katie and Jack are charging on ahead, Rosco is tapping out a steady rhythm, and I’m at the rear, sounding very much like I’m having a heart attack.
The thought of having to say I stopped and walked is the only thing that keeps me moving forward, until I finally throw myself over the top, gasping in oxygen. That was fairly horrific. But it’s another step closer to Lands End.
We keep climbing, but on a much more manageable grade, Katie seemingly floating up the hills, dragging our sorry torsos with her. We descended down into Boscastle, where inevitably the queen of speed dropped to the back, proving it is in fact possible to go slower down a 20% hill than up one.
Straight out of Boscastle there’s another climb, and briefly starting heading up it, only for me to notice that Katie still wasn’t on the climb. In the space of 5 seconds I went from chill to a complete state of panic, visualising her lying in the middle of the road after having come off on the descent.
I sped back down, thankfully to find her in one piece at the side of the road – her rear derailleur hanger had snapped clean off. Unfortunately, this isn’t one you could fix on the roadside, and her ride was over just 15 miles in to the day. Her taxi was summoned, and we were back to a terrible trio.
She didn’t know it at the time, but she’d swerved an absolute bullet. After passing through Tintagel, we headed down a sharp climb into a narrow valley. Crossing a little river, the route map seemed to indicate us going up a near vertical road into the sky, on what looked like a farm track. With two other options, I just assumed the map had done a funny.
Ross arrived behind me, as I’d come to a stop.
Me: ‘It can’t be up there mate’
Ross: ‘I think it is. I remember this road now. Amy’s dad barely got up it in his car. We were near enough rolling backwards.’
There happened to be a local runner passing by, who overheard our conversation. At the same time, Jack rolled around the corner, asking us if the wall of death was our route. When Ross confirmed, Jack was off, continuing up into the sky.
Runner: ‘You boys won’t get up that, especially with all your kit. It’s proper steep, like’.
Ross: ‘I’ve cycled from John O’Groats mate, if I can do that, I can do this’.
He was then also off. Christ. I’m in trouble here. If they’re doing it, I’m going to have to do it. Sucking in air, I threw myself at it, with everything I had. This was utterly ridiculous. By far the steepest climb I’ve ever done on a bike, and I’m doing it on day 6, with a bike fully loaded with kit, and legs that feel like they’ve been battered with a pair of baseball bats.
This time, I was convinced I wasn’t going to make it. Rosco had said earlier in the day, that he’d rather fall off and then clip out and put his foot down. So this was my new target. If I wasn’t going to get up it, it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. Whatever happens, clipping out in banned.
Somehow, I dragged my way to the top. Just. The boys looked back as I was shouting and screaming, thinking something had happened. I was celebrating like I’d just won the Tour du France – furiously punching the air with my fist. That one felt like a win. Surely there could be nothing worse from here.
It was all downhill into Wadebridge, where we refueled on some pasties waiting for Katie’s taxi to arrive. Unfortunately, the bike couldn’t be fixed on the day, so she was consigned to the car with Mike, promising to meet us at the end.
The terrain was undulating as we bypassed Newquay – we were either going up or down all day. Rosco was on familiar roads now, and he talked us through the upcoming miles, as we ticked off the significant climbs we had left to tackle.
The kilometres were ticking down slowly, but the thought of a daylight finish and a pub dinner were spurring as on no end. Not even the return of the rain could dampen our spirits.
We stopped in Portreath, for what we realised would be the final bottle and food stop of the trip – emotional scenes. 35 miles to go – taking nothing for granted just yet. The climbs weren’t so painful anymore – after the wall of death, anything seemed possible.
After Hayle, we spotted triathlon demon Neil Eddy, who had decided to give up his Saturday afternoon to come and see how us 3 morons were getting on. We stopped for a chat, before he ended up leapfrogging us in his car, taking some photos and keeping an eye on us.
There was one more raw reminder of things not being over until the fat lady sings, as we rounded a corner to see a car flipped upside down on it’s roof. Thankfully, the chap inside was unhurt, just sitting by his door looking pretty dazed, with a dozen people already in attendance to help.
Now we really were in the closing stages, as the road wound along the coast, feeling more and more like the end of the world, just like it had done up near John O’Groats on day 1. We were briefly held up as a herd of cows were crossing the road – you don’t get that in London.
My bike sounded like it was about to fall to pieces, and with 10 miles to go, the chain kept falling off. I begged it to just hold things together for another hour, and we commented how if anything went wrong from here, we’d probably walk the rest of the way.
As we closed in on the finish, the mood was jubilant, and we spent a few minutes going over each day, thinking back to all the stupid things that had happened and adversity that had been overcome.
5km – just a parkun to go. It was all downhill from here, with a chance to just soak in the moment. I thought I was going to be emotional, but in truth I was just too exhausted. I couldn’t wait to stop pedalling, and just sit down on something that wasn’t a bike.
We came into the car park at Lands End, passing by Katie, Rosco’s family and other friends that had come to see us finish. We cycled around the hotel, rather unceremoniously getting off to walk down some steps, before pedaling up to the sign – job done.
Hugs were exchanging, and prosecco may have been opened and sprayed like we’d just won a grand prix. Rather comically, we weren’t allowed to touch the sign unless we paid for a photo, which we duly did and got a few ‘official’ snaps taken.
Neil had brought us some beers (what a legend), which were hastily drunk – one of the best drinks I’ve ever had. Since Rosco’s family had come to see us home, we were able to get a lift back to Truro, which really was a lifesaver, and made the day so much easier.
That evening we found ourselves in a pub, having a big feed and a few beers. I’m not even ashamed to say I didn’t even last until 8pm, barely able to keep my eyes open. I don’t even remember my head hitting the pillow, and I had one of the best sleeps I’ve had for ages.
Day 6 stats:
2,740 meters of climbing
7 hours 23 ride time
8 hours 40 elapsed time
My most quoted line when speaking about this trip – ‘I seriously underestimated that’. I naively thought that if I just kept pedaling, we’d eventually get where we needed to be, no matter how long it took. We weren’t trying to set any records.
But the long days, coupled with crap recovery (no sleep) and bad weather really took their toll at times. I’m really happy to admit I had to work hard for this, and there were plenty of times I thought about just throwing in the towel, but didn’t.
6 days is a fairly punchy schedule for a JOGLE attempt, and we made it a lot harder for ourselves by adding on an extra 100 miles and doing nearly double the climbing that you’d normally do. Fools.
As much as I moaned, a lot, I absolutely loved it, and wouldn’t think twice about doing it again. We got the amazing opportunity to see so much of the country, and it highlighted to me that there’s also so much more to see.
I’ve gained memories that will last a lifetime, and got to experience it with two diamond geezers. Already looking forward to the 10 year reunion.
16,000 meters of climbing