A bit like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly, Andrew continues the frightening metamorphosis from human to Mike (half-man, half-bike). He emerged from the hostel this morning with oil all over his clothes and legs. It seems oil now pumps around his veins, carbon fibres replacing his skin. His speed up a hill is too fast to measure.
We set off early from Fort William bound for Invergordon. Except we didn’t, as some fool (don’t ask …) suffered a puncture before a wheel was turned. It didn’t matter it was raining, as we’d barely dried out from the day before. So, off we set into the driving rain.
The long rides have had a startling effect on young Sean Roberts. On Day One, he was a wee slip of a lad, adored by truck drivers across the South East of England for his boyish looks. By Day Eleven, he has become so manly and strong, he broke his second front mech of the ride – this time on Posh Tom’s spare bike.
Tom wept crocodile tears, knowing it would give him the perfect excuse to tell his wife, Katie, he really needed to buy a new spare Bianchi.
To while away the time as Sean’s bike was being fixed roadside, some of the lads, feeling cold and lonely and looking for love, played sardines in the cab of the van (parp, parp went Paul Kelly’s hooter under the gentle hand of the more experienced Paul Collins).
We got going again and whizzed on past Loch Lochy (so called as it’s a bit Loch-like), then – after the now obligatory twice-daily 45 minute coffee/cake/chocolate/anything edible left in the van stop in Fort Augustus – we passed dark, brooding Loch Ness. No sign of the eponymous monster. Instead, we stopped for lunch on Drumnachdrochit green with the WAGs and children.
Post-lunch, a version of the beautiful game ensued, but not one Pele would have recognised. Blatant fouling and flopping beer bellies abounded – the numerical victory of the Abrahams’ team was cancelled out by a wicked foul on PK by the man Abrahams himself. Where was the red card ref? (Joe Marr – an otherwise exemplary driver and saviour on many occasions – missed that one).
During the afternoon, as we headed inexorably north, a strange pale yellow disc appeared in the sky. Apparently, it is called The Sun. It was all too much for Neil, who decided to lie down in the middle of the road to wait for the next passing lorry to end his misery. Somehow it missed. But with a kind wind, we easily crossed the Moray and Cromaty Firths and finally reached Invergordon , chez Pippa and Robin. Pippa and Robin, supported by a cast of thousands of local friends, put on a lavish feast with tongues wagging, wine flowing and dancing girls (actually, I made that last bit up – but the eating, drinking and making merry are true). Pippa and Robin’s generosity and hospitality are boundless, and we’re immensely grateful to them.
As I write this, the lads are in the garden already reflecting on the journey so far. It has been a true experience for us all – something we all feel privileged to be a part of. One day and a 100 miles to go. Now, where’s that cream?
Another Fine morning greeted us as we woke up in Ayr this mornin' and spirits were high as we cleaned our completely filthy bikes in the sun outside the fine Chalmer's hostel. But as usual we faffed about way too long and the weather decided to take a turn for the worse and we were left to begin our cycle in the pouring rain. Never nice.
After yesterday's idyllic experience of sun, tailwind, and breathtaking scenery I'd changed my opinion of Scotland. Maybe it wasn't going to be so tough after all. But this morning we got a slight glimpse of the wild Celtic wraith that could threaten to chop us down at any time. But again Jim donned his (ridiculous) blue Braveheart battle makeup/suncream and he led us out to battle the elements.
Sean's starting to get the hang of this ol' map reading business and if you forego the fact that he refuses to pick either the easiest or shortest route you could say he did an exceptional job today! And as he only seems to get us lost in areas with decent scenery these days I guess it's forgivable.
Neil was mourning the fact that he never gets a chance to appreciate the scenery because he tends to be struggling up the hills and then bombing down the other side due to his, um, gravitational advantage, so I've decided that tomorrow I might paint a few landscapes for him so he knows what he's missing. I tend to get a bit bored waiting for the 'older gents' to catch up with me on the top of the hills so I might as well set up an easel and paint a few pictures for them to pass the time....! hehe
After a rough morning the clouds dispersed and we ploughed on like a well oiled machine & before we knew it we were in Kilmacolm being fed by a massive support team including Tara, Rose and Stephen & Fiona's kids and Tom & Kate's kids. Good work folks.
The second half flew by all smooth with the only event being me getting a puncture on a mental dual carriageway. As I began to take off the wheel Eoin FORCED me to move 50m down the road in the van so I didn't get turned into roadkill. Paul 'Legs of Jelly' Kelly and Paul 'doin' rightly for his age' Collins obviously weren't so concerned about me general health and instantly accused me of cheating. After cycling twice round the next bleedin' roundabout to shut 'em up wasn't enough for them & the stick continued deep into the evening. I thought the midges around Lough Lomond were bad but they're nothin compared to those two lads. Tomorrow I'm gettin the support team to buy me some Kelly/Collins repellant to go with the insect repellant.
By the way the 'youth hostel' beside Lough Lomond is a flippin' castle where Robert de Bruce used to have his hunting Lodge. That's a bit of history for ye.
And apologies Paul. It's not your fault Kelly ryhmes with jelly. You're a master of the bike. If your prefer I can call you Ally 'legs of steel' McBeal or something.
The day starts with the lads tuning in to the weather forecast - you can hear the groans down the hotel corridor. The rain is following us up through Wales and beyond whilst the toe of England at Land's End is now bathed in sunshine. Still, the day started well with a full english/irish breakfast at the Cardiff Hilton and then the morning clean and tune up of the bikes, when we make sure that all is in good working order (like the chains etc). We had a route planned that would take in a climb up the Bwlch which some of us visited on the Dragon ride. That also took in some of the small Welsh villages nick-named Pyjamarama, where the residents heckle us on the way to the bookies at midday still in their pyjama bottoms. We stopped and asked a bloke the way to Neath where we would be stopping for lunch. He asked us what bike ride we were doing and when we told him it was the Land's End to John O Groats, he replied "Well I think you are lost boys aren't you" (insert Welsh accent here).
After Neath we formed the chain gang again (so-called because every 10 minutes Andrew 'The Chain' McManus's chain comes off) and I think we would have to grudgingly admit that it did work (sometimes) as we flew along for a few miles.
Oh, and Neil (our perpetual inside left, no.2) has taken over the mantle of our "Capt. Furious". Whose turn will it be tomorrow?
(photo: Top of Bwlch - raining, obviously. I think something weird must have happened in the perspective of this photo - look at Sean and Stephen on the right!)
Tough day today. Off on the ferry to Rosslare tomorrow so we'll start the day with the shipping forecast.
Woken at 4am in the morning by the driving rain and morning delivery at our neighbouring Somerfield, day three didn’t start well. The terrain was set to be kinder but the relentless horizontal rain would take no prisoners. This called for a moment of genius on my part as after realising my water proof ‘cycling’ jacket was neither water resistant nor conducive to cycling, or any sport, emergency repairs were needed.
The ride started well with ‘Spotter’ Sean out ahead of the pack for the thankless task that no man wants, but thinks can do better, to map yet another seamless route. He continued to stand by his philosophy of “I know the sign says Cardiff, but ask yourself, does it really mean it??”, and it pulled us through once again and he still found time to shed a tear on reaching his homeland.
Our latest stage of the journey saw us cross into new counties and countries, crossing the Avon and Severn Bridges on route. This third gruelling day drove home to the team that if we had any doubt of the challenge we'd signed up to, we certainly didn’t now.
Meanwhile, the dry warm hotel had to wait as the 95 mile monsoon hindered ride had its usual interruptions. First a trip to Asda for Stevo ‘Captain Fury’ to purchase cream for his swollen forehead, apparently from a mysterious wasp sting and not from chewing one or just over frowning in general as the team suspect. Neil did his best to break momentum by again overloading his bike, breaking a spoke and buckling a wheel in the process, puncturing the tyre of the replacement bike within five minutes of straddling it, dropping his sunglasses twice and pulling us all over so he could adjust his seat and camel toe. A committee meeting was called late last night to decide whether to release Neil of his duties. But then he does camp so well and we need him in for comedy value. He will learn of the decision via the circulated minutes.
Stage three of the tour complete and the team I know are looking forward to the next challenge of showing no respect to the Welsh Valleys, testing the notion of what goes up, must come down. We’ve seen little proof of that so far.
We’re off. Well all the months of planning and preparation have finally kicked in. Everything which just about could have gone wrong in getting to Lands end did. Car break downs, bumps and accidents not to mention getting in at 4;50am for a 7;30 rise to ride a tough hundred miles with steep repeated hills in Cornwall. When we were planning this we imagined nice summer weather with gentle SW winds and true to Roses gift form we had a day of pissing rain and gale force winds instead. We were staying in the YMCA which was a new experience of most of us Paul Collins had his false moustache but didn’t wear it because some big lad in the lounge kept winking at him. We got up and managed to get down to Lands End without crashing and then hogged the sign for long enough to hoist the Tricolour and a trombone fanfare waved us off. Day one was a day of getting used to riding together as a big group - this was a bit weird as everyone was a bit excited and wanted to push on so we had a few break aways. Neil G was particularly unimpressed with riding in a group as he shows cycling no respect. As one part of the 50K Colchester duo, we need to pay homage to a man capable of keeping up with us on his mahogany bike. Stephen took off like a whippet after a wasp stung him in the brain. We had a lot of people beeping horns at us as they passed and those of use from London responded for the first hour by giving the finger. Then we realised people where just being friendly and wishing us good luck as the van displayed our charitable efforts so we waved from then on. We got in a fast rhythm and spent most of the rest of the day arguing about who has the best way of riding. We tried every technique but with 10 headstrong ignorant heads it was more like carry on cycling than the Tour de France. All that aside we punched out 100 Miles in just under 5 Hours with only 2 notable stops. Julia set the standard for support by her seamless pit stop and she really helped us on this tough day. John provided support and security on the big fast roads and we all made it with plenty to spare. The second stop was more of a surprise as Neil called his Da in for logistical support as he needed a dump on the A30 lay-by. Good day and ready for an easier day tomorrow. Hopefully!!
The Rose's Gift Bike Challenge set off on Sunday. On their first day they had a lot of ground to cover, but luckily they had a good tail wind for most of their journey. Day two was very hilly from all accounts, and the guys are now in Bridgewater, Somerset - knackered but morale is good!
Eoin will be updating the blog throughout the cycle to let us know how they're all getting on.
If you want to sponsor the guys online go to www.justgiving.com/rosesgift . We've nearly made our target - so help us for this last bit!!
Good luck to all the cyclists!!
Black Box, Hill Street, Belfast
Ladies, has the credit crunch left you looking unglamorous? Bring us your old clothes (in good condition) and we’ll send you home with a brand new wardrobe at Fashion Crunch!
There will also be music, drinks, auctions and lots of glamour at this unique fashion event run by the Rose’s Gift Association in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital, Children with Leukaemia and Momentum. Hair and beauty consultations will also be available. So if there’s a beautiful dress, bag or top at the back of your wardrobe that you haven’t worn in a while, doesn’t fit anymore, or never suited you anyway, bring it along! You’ll be helping a great cause and we promise you’ll go home with something you love.
Tickets cost £5 and that gets you one swap token, a free drink and nibbles, additional swap tokens can be bought for £2.50 each or 5 for a £10.
Also, on the night: cupcake stall, manicures, hair consultation, fashion styling demonstrations, prize draw for £300 of Designers Guild Bed Linen, meal for two at Belfast Castle, a pamper pack from all Well and Good , cut and blow dry at Toni and Guy (more prizes to be confirmed) and Linda Bryans will be kicking off the event.