I have now completed two UK “End to End” 14 day cycles rides. My first, in May 2013, was Lands End to John O’Groats, which for me, was a very daunting prospect as I had never tackled such a cycling challenge and this combined with the fact that I was beyond retirement age, it was a physical challenge that somewhat concerned my family. I had carefully selected Peak Tours, a cycle tour specialist from web research of the range of organisers of cycling holidays, believing that they would provide the most supportive arrangements and so enable me to achieve my objective of safely completing the trip. Such was my enjoyment of the experience that I put my name down for a place on Peak Tours’ Dover to Cape Wrath challenge, again over 14 days. This I completed in August 2014.

It is said that “there is no fool like an old fool”, and my actions after completing Dover to Cape Wrath, adds considerable credence to that saying because, I have once again put my name down for another 14 day cycle ride, again organised by Peak Tours – this time it will be from the English Channel to the Mediterranean or more precisely, Caen to Nice. This will be done in May 2015.

On any long distance outdoor challenge such as this, there are a number of factors which are going to test you: –

  • Are you fit enough to cycle on average 75 miles each and every day?  With reasonable training, it should be possible but, in truth, you do not know which days are going to feel relatively easy and which ones will be really quite difficult. There are no rest days, and so some mornings, a day spent pedalling for 75 miles might not seem so attractive!
  • Will your bike hold up against the rigours it will be put through?  My bike will be thoroughly checked over and certain items renewed and re-set before I set off but things just simply arise as happened last year when after cycling through a lot of deep water, courtesy of Hurricane Bertha on day 2, my gears gave up at the end of day 5. Thankfully we are supported by a mechanic on these trips and we know we will see him three times per day. I had warned him of my gear concerns during the day and so he was equipped when the gears failed at the end of the day, to replace them in the evening and I was able to set out the next day with a fully functioning bike. The other more minor but more frequent occurrences e.g. punctures, are yours to resolve along the way. I had none throughout the whole of Lands End to John O’Groats and two one morning on last year’s trip, but I have had a colleague suffer five in an afternoon!
  • Will you be able to get up all the hills?  The answer is simply yes, because you have to, but the comfort and time to do so might be greatly in doubt. Our first three days of hills in Cornwall & Devon were the most testing of the Lands End to John O’Groats trip because each day there were many, short steep hills. On Dover to Cape Wrath, days 4, 5 and 6, as we negotiated our way across the Pennines, through the Yorkshire Dales and on to Penrith, were particularly difficult. This was not altogether surprising as we had been told to expect total ascent on Lands End to John O’Groats to be 54,000ft and for Dover to Cape Wrath, 66,000ft. My concern now is that our Caen to Nice route has a total ascent of 80,000ft and that on day 11, we will be tackling Mont Ventoux, one of the classic Tour de France climbs; I did wonder why our day’s ride was only scheduled for 40 miles.
  • Will you be the “tail end Charlie” of the cycling group?  Most assuredly not! I have now cycled with nearly forty different people with ages ranging from 19 to 73 and we all had our good and bad days.
    I was never the first one home, nor was I the last. What I am sure of, is that the disparate group, yet to meet in Caen, will be varied in age and personality and will turn out to be wonderful company and very supportive. Perhaps the one differentiator I am likely to experience is that I have been, to date, the only Scot.
  • Will this just be another 14 days of pushing on the pedals?  Mais non! I will be in France and so my conversational French will need resuscitating and augmented to include some technical cycling terms. I will be on the right hand side of the road, or had better be! For this, I must exercise and practise looking over my left shoulder, and must finally adopt and embrace the metric system as I measure my progress each day, from time to time.
  • This sounds like a lot of work?  It is if you just measure it by kilometres to travel and ascend. It will be if I count the calories I will actually consume. On Lands End to John O’Groats, it was 4500 calories per day and over the fortnight, I lost 1lb or to more correct 453.59grams. But my abiding memory of the challenges to date and my optimistic expectation of Caen to Nice is that it is really quite relaxing as one has little else to do or think about for 14 days but pushing on pedals and eating and conversing with similarly minded people. Really quite a big change from normal life and as they say, a change is as good as a rest, and so this should be a big rest.
  • Why on earth are you doing this?  We all operate in different ways, and I have always enjoyed pushing myself a little. When I finally retired, I felt that a cycle challenge of 14 days might be quite the thing for me, now that I could actually afford 14 days away. The other key reason, for me, has been to use such challenges to raise money for Charity and since the birth of my granddaughter, Morven, that charity has been The Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Morven was diagnosed at birth and so her condition has been able to be managed very closely, but there is still no cure and so the need to fund research goes on. As I push on the pedals daily heading South to Nice, I can reflect with gratitude on the many generous donations have been received from these cycling exploits, and the dedicated care and support Morven has received over her eight years to date from the NHS and its staff. If you have time, please view the CF Trust Video – The Breath Before.  I will be carrying the images and message as I cycle through France.
  • Nothing to worry about then?  Well I wouldn’t say that as the logistics of getting body, bike and baggage to Caen and from Nice, looked a little testing at first sight. I devised a solution which happily I was able to adopt. Perhaps the greatest challenge facing me will be to get to my younger daughter’s 40th Birthday Party less than 24hrs after arriving in Nice. No long cold drink and a lounge under a parasol for me on arrival in Nice, just a quick shower, change of clothes, packing of the baggage, preparation of an overnight bag and then hand my bike and haversack to Peak Tours before heading for a late plane to Gatwick, then head for Central London and a hotel near Kings Cross Station. After a handful of hours of snatched sleep, catch an early York/Harrogate train to arrive about 90 minutes before the party starts – that is if everything goes according to plan. I am not so sure that rested will properly describe how I will feel as I toast the birthday girl, but I do expect to feel a small glow of self achievement and no little gratitude that my challenge will have been met……… just before I fall deeply to sleep!

I will then be able to answer my kilometres or miles question.

Graeme Nicol
Ex Deacon Convener

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