LEJOG Overview Part II: Scottish Storms and Headwinds That Make You Cry! (Week 2)
Pascal here. They say 'be careful what you wish for'....Having spent the first 7 days trying to avoid heat injury in the English sun and praying for a temperature drop to below 30 degrees, the second half of my LEJOG ride took me into Scotland praying for rain. And that's exactly what I got, into the Scottish storms I went....
Before we get onto all things weather and how this impacted on the ride, it's worth clearing up a point of popular misconception (mine included!). It turns out that Hadrian's Wall does not in fact mark the border between England and Scotland, it is actually significantly far south of the border. In my ignorance, I had assumed I'd cross over the wall and arrive in Scotland, not the case.
Having spent the day tracking this ancient wall from Newcastle across to Carlisle, I subsequently turned north and entered into Scotland a few miles later at Gretna Green. This small village is famous for couples heading to for shotgun weddings (the Las Vegas of the UK!), but apparently the regulations have changed and you now actually have to give 29 days' notice before getting hitched here. With any potential wedding off the cards, I instead took a quick pic and headed north into the rolling hills of the Scottish Borders.
If I'm being honest, this was the part of the ride I'd been looking forward to the most. Scotland is an absolutely beaut of a country, somewhere I've spent quite a bit of time cycling, hiking, climbing and camping in. It's an outdoors paradise.
When Dan and I originally planned the route, we intentionally dropped the daily distance down for the Scottish legs, from the 200km+ days of the first week down to 150km.
Why? We just didn't want to rush through the stunning landscapes, instead we wanted to soak it all in.
For us, this is a big part of cycle touring, it's about immersing ourselves in epic surroundings - no need to rush through at break neck speed, eyes down at the tarmac in an aero position. I can do that in London! What's the point?
Most of my nights in Scotland were spent wild camping, as local bye laws allow (not the case in England). There is something so gratifyingly simple about finishing a day of cycling, taking a sleeping bag out of a saddle bag and bedding down under the stars. The sense of calm this brings is unrivalled, I don't think there is a better way to drift off to sleep.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned storms meant that a couple of my wild camping nights were spent fulled zipped into my waterproof bivvy bag, in an attempt to avoid getting soaked through overnight. I was encouragingly successful in this regard, managing to stay mostly dry! In reality, no waterproof kit is ever going to keep all the water out when it rains solidly for 8 hours...oh well! It was also great to give all my kit a good test, as this will be the same wild camping set up we'll be taking stateside.
Tracking north, the days were spent being dwarfed by big hills and admiring the endless stunning lochs of the Highlands. My human interactions were noticeably fewer as I progressed on towards the northern scottish coast, the traffic increasingly being replaced by huge expanses of wilderness - check out the video below! For any keen cyclists, I would definitely recommend flying up to Inverness, grabbing a hire bike and spending a few days exploring the northern Highlands - if you like your landscape on an epic scale, this is where you need to come!
As I neared John O'Groats (JOG), the last couple of days were particularly hard work, as an unrelenting headwind from the north really slowed my progress. My normal speed of 16-17 mph was abruptly reduced to more like 10 mph - at one point I jumped off the bike and irrationally shouted a multitude of bad words at the wind (I'm pretty sure that anyone who has spent a full day cycling into a headwind has done the same thing!). Pointless shouting complete, I jumped back on the bike and continue towards JOG...
Before long, I started picking up signs for JOG and was into the home stretch. Passing through the 2000km mark, I starting making out the final headland in the distance, an hour later I was stood adjacent to the famous signpost. I'd made it!!!! Not even the tacky gift shops and overpriced coffee could detract from my sense of achievement, it felt great to have completed such an iconic ride - particularly getting it done solo, unsupported. It felt like I was partly doing for Dan, I know he was gutted to have missed it.
My legs felt surprisingly good, a sure sign that the winter months spent cycling about in freezing conditions had all been worth it. At this point, I want to give a shout out to the expedition support team of Tim (physical trainer), Joe and Lana (sport scientists), and Dan (nutritionist) - without their expert training guidance none of this would have been possible. Whilst I was a solo cyclist, this was very much a team effort!
It also felt amazing to have raised nearly £5,000 for the Royal Navy Royal Marines Charity in the process, in support of the vital mental health support they provide to serving personnel, veterans and their families. I've been hugely overwhelmed by the generosity of friends, family, the military community and random strangers - extremely humbling. Thank you so much for your support, you are legends!
LEJOG done! Next up we ride 5000km across the USA next July.