By Sam Gardner – 18th November 2016
What an adventure it was. We did this back in 1999, it was an adventure for the end of University holidays, an idea dreamed up instead of revising a few months earlier like we should have been doing.
At the time I lived in Chichester on the South Coast and after 3 years of being a student this was to be a budget adventure. We drove up to John O’Groats in a VW Camper Van, pretty much 16hrs straight. Although the prevailing winds generally make it faster to ride in the other direction finishing in John O’Groats, I had a friend called in Sennen Cove just near Lands End who kindly offered us accommodation for the night after we finished, and the idea of celebrating in Cornwall was more appealing than John O’Groats where there really is very little!
In keeping with the budget theme, we planned our route to stay with friends as much as possible, only paying for camp sites for the camper and a tent or 2 when needed. My final student move was to pop into the local Iceland supermarket before we left where they had a 2 for 1 deal on Malt loaves and to buy about 60 of the things to fuel us for the weeks riding.
4 of us were riding with 2 of our girl-friends driving the camper as support and carrying bags for us.
Instead of a blow by blow report which I won’t be able to do 17 years on, I’ll give you my top 10 lasting memories from a great trip and tips for how to do it better than we did.
1. We started way too fast. We’d all raced each other for years and the competitive spirit took over and we were sprinting for town signs in the first 5 miles. Be sensible with your pacing.
2. Plan thoroughly, use a GPS device. We used A4 sheets of paper, photocopied from maps from the student library, highlighted and taped together, back in those days it was the only option but it wasn’t ideal once they got wet and sweaty they turned to mush!
3. Train for your daily millage. Even though we were racing cyclists, we had all finished our seasons, not ridden for a month and this was a shock to the system. This resulted in lots of injuries.
4. Check your cleats and bike set up. These days with cleats with lots of float it isn’t as much of a problem, but only 2 of our 4 man group finished the ride and we all had knee injuries at the end.
5. Scotland is big! Half the cycling time was spent in Scotland. It’s hilly too!
6. Loch Ness is big too, and after hours looking at the water for a monster, I never saw ‘Nessie’.
7. Highs and Lows. Lots of them and they come and go quickly. At one point we had stuggled in silence for hours into a head wind in driving rain on day 3, and Steve (who was the solid rock of the group and never complained), suddenly lost it screaming ‘F*&k Off Wind!’. We found shelter, ate, the sun came out and then found ourselves on an amazing descent and all was right with the world again!
8. 3 Malt Loaves a day don’t help your insides, or anyone riding behind you. To this day I’ve hardly eaten one since.
9. You see so much more on a bike, England is an amazing country and so diverse in its different regions. I’ve never regretted this trip and always recall anecdotes of the trip as the names of towns and villages pop up in conversation years on.
10. Don’t rush the journey, we all had Uni starting again a few days later but the one thing we agreed on would be to take double the time and stop more and take it in instead of staring at a wheel in front of you.
17 years down the road, and I’ve seen more than a few customers at Bikebox Online tackling the same Lands End to John O’Groats adventure I did, and it’s been great to share experiences with them.
With the recent opening of our Plymouth Hub and our existing Aberdeen hub we now stock boxes at the 2 closest airports to both ends of the route, and it was common sense to offer one way rentals to customers wanting to undertake this challenge.
If you live in Scotland you can either rent a box from Aberdeen and fly to Plymouth, drop the box to our Plymouth Hub and then cycle to John O’Groats. Or you can ride the other direction to Lands End and collect a bike box to fly your bike home in. Customer from closer to Plymouth can do Vice versa.
Contact one of the 2 hubs for more details and enjoy this amazing route our country has to offer.