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JOGLE – The Scenic Route: Day 14

In-depth
3 Nov 2021
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After an epic two weeks riding the length of Britain, the end is finally in sight

Words Marcus Leach Photography Gavin Kaps/Osprey Imagery

My finger hovers above my bike computer but I just can’t bring myself to press the button. ‘End ride?’ it asks me patiently.

For two weeks my sole focus has been on reaching Land’s End, on completing the toughest and most scenic of JOGLE routes and, in so doing, discovering large  tracts of Britain that I’d previously overlooked in favour of foreign roads.

Now, standing with my front wheel leaning out over the edge of a precipitous cliff with nothing but ocean in front of me, I find myself wishing that I could keep pedalling, longing for the journey to continue, craving just one more climb, one more rain-soaked day.

‘End ride?’ it asks again.

A kaleidoscope of thoughts fills my mind, flashing before me in the same way they do in films when someone has a near-death experience.

Now they come and go with a staccato rhythm, but over time I know they will settle more substantially, affording me the opportunity to delve back into a host of different landscapes and emotions, to relive this epic journey.

On paper it will say I’ve ridden 2,575km in 14 days, but in my legs, in my heart and in my mind it will always feel like a journey of far greater distance and magnitude.

The long and short of it

It is perhaps a touch ironic, given my eventual desire to elongate the final day, that it’s the shortest at ‘only’ 120km. In practical terms, such a distance does bring with it a handful of luxuries that I have been deprived of since beginning my journey from John O’Groats, chief of which are a few hours’ extra sleep and the ability to savour a more leisurely breakfast before setting off.

I don’t dwell for too long, though, having learned a hard lesson on that front a few days prior, when a so-called ‘easy’ day turned into a battle of attrition. Still, as I roll off towards St Austell I know that, bar some sort of disaster or another irate pensioner in a hatchback, I will achieve my goal today.

I have little time to ponder the significance of that fact or how it will feel, my focus solely on staying upright as cars stream past me on a busy road that skirts around St Austell.

I soon find sanctuary away from the roaring traffic and, for once, I’m happy to be back on little side roads with 20% gradients, my preference being aching legs rather than the threat of being knocked off by less-than-accommodating drivers in a hurry to get to the beach.

The roads to Perranporth are characterised by their narrowness, flanked by high hedges and moss-covered dry stone walls. Great arching tunnels of thick green foliage shield me from the warming sun, narrowing my view of the world and allowing my mind to roam free.

As much as I fight to stay in the present moment it’s hard not to let my mind wander from time to time, thoughts drifting back to Peru and the summit of the infamous Punta Olimpica climb.

It was there, sat in the rarified air to be found at 5,000m, that the desire to properly explore Great Britain on two wheels had first arisen in the back of my mind.

Little did I know the story would unfold in quite the way it has, as I eventually took on this challenge in the midst of a pandemic with my wife and children following me in a motorhome.

Not that I would have changed it for the world: there is, I believe, a greater enjoyment to be found in the shared experience, and I couldn’t have wished to share it with a better team. 

What I would like to change, though, is that I’m finishing the final stretch on a hot Saturday afternoon just as the nation has emerged from lockdown, with half of southern England seemingly heading for the coast.

Before long even the quieter side roads have a river of traffic flowing along them. Dropping down towards the seaside town of Perranporth, it’s hard to imagine amid all the hustle and bustle that just a few weeks prior we were all consigned to ‘staying at home’.

Even with the throngs of tourists milling about I’m tempted to stop for an ice cream, eventually resisting for the promise of one at the finish and without such crowds.

Culinary delights

The coastal road heads back out of town up a vicious incline, my legs and lungs already feeling the effects long before a bus chugs past, smothering me in a thick plume of exhaust smoke.

When the road eventually levels off, and the bus thankfully disappears into the distance, it tacks its way along the coast, seagulls sporadically flitting about among tiny wisps of perfect-white cloud.

All that separates me from the inviting waters below is a thick strip of dense gorse, behind which the occasional head of a walker pops up, giving the impression that they are floating in the air.

I’m being carried along by the gentlest of breezes when I notice that there’s only 40km to go. Once more my mind is spirited away from the Cornish coast, filled instead with a series of memories from past races and rides around the world. For all of those experiences, none have had quite the impact that this trip has.

Maybe it would have been different had I not spent the preceding months in lockdown along with the rest of the nation, during which time my world shrank.

There was a time when such a thought would have troubled me, yet as I embarked on the first leg of the journey south I did so relishing the chance to more fully discover the country I call home.

Over the past days I have come to realise that we have so much here on our doorsteps, but are often so busy looking for greener grass elsewhere that we fail to appreciate it. Or at least I have certainly been guilty of doing so.

Woven into the fabric of our ‘green and pleasant land’ are numerous climbs and landscapes that are just as picturesque and beautiful in their own right as any I’ve seen elsewhere in the world.

I’m roused from my thoughts by the smell of freshly baked pasties, signalling my arrival into Hayle, home to one of the region’s best-known shops for what is the most quintessential of Cornish foods.

I might have resisted an ice cream earlier, but there’s no way I’m forgoing a pasty now for the sake of finishing half an hour earlier. Not when they’re this good.

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I savour its meaty, pastry-enclosed goodness and climb back on my bike. In no time I’m through a heaving St Ives and onto the final stretch to the finish, opting for the meandering coastal road rather than the more direct A30, sticking to the scenic route right to the last.

It’s a choice that rewards my efforts in the best possible way. As I pass through Zennor, I notice a hand-scribbled sign in a hedge with the magical words ‘Ice Cream Ahead’, which, given the remoteness of the road I’m now on, I find hard to believe.

Yet up ahead in the distance I notice a small wooden hut in a field, which despite my misgivings does indeed turn out to be a makeshift ice cream parlour, complete with flakes, fudge sticks and an impressive selection of homemade Cornish ice creams.

A little voice tries to tell me I’m only 10km from the end and I should keep going, but before it has a chance to finish what it’s saying I’m stood at the counter ordering a triple scoop with two fudge sticks. I don’t regret it for a second. 

End game

Despite my best efforts there can be no more delaying – the next stop will be the last. However, the closer to the finish I find myself, the slower I begin to pedal, almost to the point of reluctance.

I’m filled with the same feeling that has engulfed me in the closing stages of all of my ultra-races over recent years: a deep desire to be back at the start, the prospect of a new journey ahead filled with as-yet-untold possibilities and adventures.

Over time I’ve come to understand that it’s not the crossing of finish lines that matters, or indeed the starting point of rides, but rather it is all that lies between these two arbitrary points that carries so much meaning.

The end is almost always an anti-climax – an all-too-fleeting euphoria is quickly replaced by a sense of emptiness as we begin to mourn the passing of something that was once all-consuming but is now consigned to the past.

In that moment it’s hard not to pine for the highs… and even the lows, for they too have their place and purpose. The lows are usually the most intense experiences and help to elevate the highs beyond what they might otherwise have been.

As I arrive at Land’s End, my mixed emotions are replaced by pure joy as I see my family – Kim, Harrison and Dorothy – waiting to cheer me across the finish line.

‘Next time can I ride it with you, Daddy?’ Harrison says, riding next to me for the final few hundred metres. His words remind me that this isn’t really the end of a journey, but rather the start of another.

It is through such experiences we discover new facets of ourselves and our perceived limits, and I can’t help but think about what might come next – what adventures I can dream up to test myself and expand my horizons.

With these thoughts in my mind I look again at my bike computer, which is still enquiring, ‘End ride?’ I pause momentarily and then press ‘Yes’.

• Fancy completing one of the greatest cycling challenges of the British Isles? Check out the Cyclist Tour Finder for bucket list guided tours including the classic LEJOGgravel riding in Scotland, or road cycling in the Yorkshire Dales

Mapping powered by komoot

No14: Join the dots

If you’re exploring an unfamiliar area on komoot, a good trick is to zoom out and connect the red dots to create a route. The dots are great sections of road or trail, as chosen by komoot’s community, and will be a highlight of any ride.

Essential JOGLE kit

No14: FirePot dehydrated meals, from £6.95 each, firepotfood.com

An army marches on its stomach, and so does a cyclist. Well, this cyclist does, anyway. I need a lot of fuel to keep me going on the bike, and when I’m averaging nearly 200km a day for two weeks, the occasional gel just isn’t going to cut it. There comes a time when I need a proper meal.

Thanks to FirePot I had a constant supply of decent meals that were both filling and tasty, which isn’t something you can usually say about dehydrated food. They are easy to make – just add boiling water and allow to sit for 15 minutes – and full of flavour.

They can be eaten straight from the pack, plus there is a wide variety of meal options, including plenty of veggie and vegan ones. Expect things like curry, chilli and risotto, as well as porridge.

Thanks

Riding from one end of Britain to the other is a major undertaking, and Cyclist had help from a number of sources.

Firstly, thanks to komoot for help with creating a route that takes in many of the best parts of the country for riding a bike.

As the ride took place during the period just after Covid-19 lockdown, we couldn’t use hotels or B&Bs, so many thanks to Bailey of Bristol (baileyofbristol.co.uk) for the loan of an Autograph 74-4 motorhome, which proved to be an excellent moving base for the trip.

Thanks also to Mercedes (mercedes-benz.co.uk) for the loan of a Marco Polo campervan, as used by our photographer for the duration of the ride.

Good kit choices are vital on a challenge such as this to avoid unneccesary stops, and I couldn’t have asked for better than the Factor O2 Disc bike (factorbikes.co.uk), Castelli clothing (saddleback.co.uk), Giro helmet and shoes (zyrofisher.co.uk), Sungod eyewear (sungod.co), Wahoo Roam bike computer (wahoofitness.com), Garmin Vector 3 Power Pedals (garmin.com) and Supernova lights (supernova-lights.com).

Nutrition was supplied by Named Sport (namedsport.com) and post-ride recovery came courtesy of Reboots (reboots.de). Thanks also to Hutchinson (windwave.co.uk) for the spare tyres and inner tubes in case of blowouts, and to Ribble for the loan of the e-bike, which allowed our photographer to keep up on the hills when the going got too tough for the campervan.

Finally, thanks to my wife and kids, who proved to be the perfect support crew.