Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Suffering Part 5; Everesting Froggatt

Today my legs hurt... a lot!  They were ok this morning but as the day has dragged on, they have gotten progressively worse.  So much so that my knees are occasionally giving way due to the overwhelming pain in my quads.  But it's a satisfying kind of pain!  Pain that I have well and truly earned!

This weekend I have successfully everested Froggatt! I can finally say I'm in the club!

So on Saturday morning, after a restless night of sleep (I wouldn't have expected anything else), my alarm went off at 6.30am.  I was already awake mind, and jumped out of bed, ushering Tom up as well.  The car was already packed, so a quick breakfast and shower, then we made the short drive over to the Grouse Inn, a pub along the route of my hill climb.  Car unpacked, bikes reassembled, and I was ready to go.  I whizzed down the hill, turned around at the bottom, and started my garmin!

Until May I'd never heard about 'everesting' before.  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) a colleague had mentioned it to me after I'd been talking about doing a few Froggatt laps.  In April Lee and Elliott, 2 ambitious local cyclists, had everested Froggatt for the first time!  Bloody good effort!  Well they have both been great in helping me to plan my ride, and came out on Saturday morning to support and ride a few laps with me; cheers guys, esp since they had a 100mile sportive the next day!

Lap 1 started solo, and my legs eased into the hill quicker than expected.  I had been worried after finishing LEJOG so recently (and being poorly at the end of it); had I left myself enough recovery time?  Fortunately it seemed I had done!  I had planned to pace myself to 35minute laps (as approx 28minute uphills), but for the first 4 laps at least I was doing 18 minute ups.  This wasn't in the plan!  Lap 2 and company arrived; Lee and Elliott in their coveted 'Hells500' jerseys.  These can only be bought once you've joined the everest club!  Along with a few of their friends, I smashed out a few quick laps, and relaxed into the rhythm of Froggatt, spinning uphill, then speeding back down.

Feeling fresh! (Photo by Richard Marks)
I had decided I would stop every 4 laps, so roughly every 2 hours to eat properly, as well as eating something on every descend.  I also bottle-changed every 2 laps.  My ride was powered mostly by cold pizza, chocolate bars, flapjack, strawberry milkshake, coke (of the drinking kind) and isotonic tablets.  I did have a whole host of other food with me, but found that this was just wanted I wanted to eat.

The laps passed by quickly, and within about 5 or so hours (maybe 5.5hrs) I'd knocked out about 10 laps.  25% done!  I was counting down in fours; counting down until each break, another 10% done.  As the morning turned into afternoon I had loads of support!!  We had a gazebo outside the Grouse Inn (manned by Tom and Dan), where I could stop to eat, and people could come and cheer/ drink beer.

During the afternoon a lot of different people rode with me!  I tried to write a list so I didn't forget to thank people; I'll include this at the bottom!  People I didn't know came to join me for laps, having heard about my attempt.  Friends of friends came out too!  I persuaded strangers who overtook me to slow down and ride with me.  The company was great and the miles really did fly by!  I was eating well, drinking well and still passing good coloured urine!

Saturday evening, leading the boys up the hill ;) (Photo by Richard Marks)
8pm came and I was having a break, having done 20 laps.  Past halfway already!  On track to be done in under 26hrs.  My main aim was to finish, but I was keen to finish as quickly as possible, preferably in under 26hrs so as to end the suffering asap.  Before everesting my longest previous ride had been about 130miles, so every mile going forwards was extra on top of that.  Incredible!

Enjoying the evening light. (Photo by Steve Franklin)
The in-laws turned up for an evening visit from Cumbria, and my father-in-law even rode a lap with me!  Darkness approached as I started to tire, 24 laps done.  Bike lights came on, and I kept going.  Company overnight was amazing and very appreciated.  As the hours continued I became more and more tired, but Lee, then Dan, then Tom talking to me kept me awake.  Early in the night I narrowly avoided a head-on with a boy-racer who took a corner on the wrong side of the road ("Don't tell Tom, he'll just worry.").  I became quieter as the night continued, focusing on riding, staying awake and upright.  My ascents continued at a reasonable pace, but the descends slowed significantly.

Dan has been my hero in all of this!  I posted on the tri club facebook page that I was planning to do this if anyone wanted to come out and ride with me.  Dan messaged me straight back to say could he help?  He organised borrowing the gazebo, set up a computer screen to track my progress, and rode 3 stints with me, including the dreaded graveyard shift.  Overnight he told me his life story to keep me awake.  It was great to have the company and to get to know Dan much better!

"Dan, tell me about how you met your partner" I said.  
"It's funny you should say that.  Well, there's the short story, but since we've got plenty of time, I'll tell you the long story..." Dan replied.

My husband finally got on his bike at about 2 or 3 am, to give Dan a break.  Despite having a better bike than me, Tom is not a keen cyclist.  But he had spent all day feeding me, passing me drinks, manning the gazebo and generally cheering me (when he wasn't reading about ski touring).  About 3am a tiny corner of the sky started to turn light.  Finally I felt like the darkness was going to end.  It had only been dark for 4 or 5 hours, but it was a long, hard night.  I am in absolute awe of the CLO guys who everested Hathersage Surprise Climb in November!  I don't know how you did it!!

4am food stop.  Feeling cold, looking rough! (Photo by Steve Franklin)
At some point before Tom took over I had my first vomit, after shoving a whole flapjack in my mouth at once so I could get descending.  Big mistake!  My body had had enough of sweet food, so it was time to move onto my secret weapon!  Chedder cheese biscuits (think mini-chedders but bigger)!  In the morning Dan reminded me of this; "It's not often you get to cycle past your own vomit 12 times."  To be honest, I didn't actually notice it!

Steve came to relieve Tom at 4am for his second stint on the bike, and we got to enjoy a beautiful sunrise as we continued to bike.  Sunrise on mid-summers day!  Incredible!!!  I was struggling, really tired, becoming sore.  My back muscles and bum were sore.  In a way this was good as it distracted from my legs, which actually never seemed to hurt.  (Don't worry, the pain now is making up for that!).  I was getting cold, really cold on the descents, but then overheating on the ups.  I started wearing a belay jacket to descend.    I had decided after a break at 32 laps that I would keep going until I finished with no further feed stops.

Dawn, mid-summer's day. (Photo by Steve Franklin)
At one point after taking my jacket off at the bottom, I closed my eyes whilst stood up with my bike between my legs.  "Have you ever fallen asleep standing up Nikki?  It's not a good idea" Steve reminded me.  Back in the saddle and keep peddling.  By 6am a combination of bright sunlight and my body's melatonin kicking in meant I was waking up a bit.  6.30am and Steve stepped down.  Dan stepped back up to the mark, ready to accompany me to the bloody end!  Only 3 laps left to go.

Lap 37 and 38 were really hard.  I don't know if it's because I was exhausted, or because my body knew the end was near and started to slow down.  Certainly looking back at the segment times, I get progressively slower through the day, most noticeably over the last 8 laps.  I stopped twice on lap 38, but made it to the top.

I was unsure if 38 laps would be enough or whether I needed to do an extra lap.  I stopped at the top with Dan and Tom, and reset my garmin so it could work out the ascent.  9,200m!!  I had done it!!!  I had over-done it!!!!!  Arghh!  What euphoria!!!  It felt incredible!  24hrs and 48minutes!!  (My ride time was 21hr18min so only 3hr30 of breaks, not too bad really).

I bounced and cheered my way back down the hill to the Grouse (after the classic photo of bike above head at top of hill; very poor quality, in bad light).  I had actually done it!  I am still in disbelief.  When I decided to do this challenge it was one of the only challenges in my year of suffering that I thought I might fail on.  I honestly wondered if it was beyond me.

Success! (Poor quality, but it will do!)

This challenge is definitely about mind over body.  Riding LEJOG recently has obviously helped my fitness, but I've otherwise not trained.  I just went out and rode.  A positive attitude, grit and determination got me up that hill 38 times.  That, plus a lot of support from some incredible people!

People to thank for coming to cheer me on or ride with me:
-Lee & Elliott!  Thanks for helping me join the club!
-Dan; you are amazing!  I honestly can't thank you enough!
-Tom; thank you for spending 25hrs outside supporting me, and a whole weekend not going climbing.
-'Fat Tony' from CLO!
-Dr Marks for coming to take pictures.
-Kate Morris for squeezing me into an already full weekend
-Adrian (who rode in my Hoy leggings!), Tash and Emma for cheering me on.
-Tom, Kate and Laurie (sorry your derailer broke!); my Tom enjoyed the Laurie cuddle!
-Alan James (in his UKC jersey!)
-Nick plus friends (and his GP colleagues).
-Ruth Newton for riding 2 laps!
-Steve, esp for the 4am laps!
-Will & Nic
-Mil & Phil
-Caitlin & Robin
-Clare & Will
-Emma Hill for a visit at 1.30am!
-The man from CLO whose name I can't remember who came at 9am just after I finished.

And I want to thank everyone else who has sponsored me, sent me messages of support or who I've forgotten! Thank you!

The list above highlights to me how bloody amazing all you guys are!  I might have done 'Everest' solo (i.e not in a team), but I never felt alone!  I think I only rode 3 laps by myself!  Everyone helped make my journey easier.

So today it's day 2 post-Everest.  (I started writing this yesterday).  My legs are still sore but they are certainly easing.  I can feel my endorphin levels starting to dip.  I'm searching for my next challenge.
In just under 3 weeks I'll be racing an ironman distance triathlon in the cotswolds (the cotswold 226), then heading to the alps to climb the Matterhorn (amongst other mountains), so I have things to look forward to.  But I worry that nothing will match up to everesting.

Can I everest another hill?  Can I everest faster?  Can I everest a hill that hasn't been done yet?  Or should I leave everesting alone for now and find a new challenge?  I don't know, I've not decided yet.  I've got my eye on an un-Everested hill in North Wales... although the gradient is similar to that of Froggatt.  I think I fancy something slightly steeper so I can do less mileage.  Lots of things to think about.

For now though, I'm going to enjoy being in the Everest club!  I can't wait for my jersey to arrive!

A final reminder about my charity page; www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers
Thanks again to everyone who helped make my Everest journey a success!

Friday, 19 June 2015

Everest Anticipation

It's 22.30 and I've finally climbed into bed after an afternoon of preparation that dragged on into the evening, and am ready to catch up on my beauty sleep before tomorrow.  I'm sure I've got time for a quick blog update first though...

My alarm is set for 6.30am, ready to jump out of bed, wolf down some breakfast then head over to Froggatt.  Tomorrow I will be trying to Everest Froggatt hill climb (this means riding up a hill multiple times to the height of everest, 8848m in fact!). This is something that I stumbled upon by accident.  After a few reps of Froggatt with a friend, I was chatting away in the staffeoom and mentioned my reps to the men.  Unfortunately one of them replied with a "oh, have you heard about the guys that everestsd it the other weekend?"  The seed was planted and Froggatt was incorporated into my year of suffering.

I did 10 laps in early may before announcing I was definitely doing it; it was better than expected.  That, combined with my recent LEJOG trip means I'm feeling hopeful!  But in the back of my mind I am aware that this is one of the toughest challenges I have ever faced.  How will I keep going for 24+ hours??  I guess I've had long days out in the mountains (such as summit day on mount kenya), and tolerated the 15hrs it took me to do an ironman well also, even managing to work the next day.

Preparation is key.  A planning meeting in the pub helped with ideas.  My food is all cooked and packed, fluids fill the car (coke, isotonic, carb drinks, red bull for when I'm falling asleep, and yorkshire tea too), the bike is ready, posters made.  There's nothing more I can do tonight except try to sleep as well as possible.  Fortunately a lunch time nap followed by a sports massage means my body is feeling suitably rested.

If anyone wants to come and ride with me I'll be riding up Froggatt hill climb on the A625, between Calver and the road junction at the top.  My support team (consisting of my awesome husband Tom, and the extremely lovely Dan) will be based outside the Grouse Inn.  Come out and ride a lap, or swing by for a pint and to cheer me on!  I am starting at 8am Saturday morning, and will finish at some point on Sunday.

A final reminder that I'm raising money for Orchid, a male cancer charity; you can sponsor me at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers thanks to everyone who has already sponsored me!

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

LE to almost JOG; my journey

The state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship

It seems like now would be an appropriate time to remind myself of the above definition.  I have certainly done my fair share of suffering over the last week!

There's that old saying 'It's not about the destination, it's about the journey' that rings true for me this week.  It also makes it easier for me to deal with not making those final 55 miles (although I do still want to cry when I think about how close I got).

Its been a tough week, tougher than I expected.  I suppose it wouldn't be a year of suffering otherwise, would it??

I'm sure if I hadn't picked up a bug then I would have slowly reached JOG on my last day.  I really am gutted to have come so far (820miles), and to fail so close to the end (55 miles to go).  It's not surprising that I became ill, the body can only take so much suffering before it says 'no!  Stop it!  I've had enough'  and I guess for me, my body reached it's limit and broke.  That's certainly how I felt when I arrived in Helmsdale on Monday afternoon with tears streaming down my face; well and truely broken!

I think I underestimated the scale and seriousness of the challenge I set myself, to ride 125 miles a day, for 7 days in a row.  Well, I'd wanted to ride LEJOG, and that was the timescale I had to fit it in to.  Other people could do it in 7 days, so well, why couldn't I??  And unsupported?  I didn't have another option, so that would do!  Solo?  Who else was mad enough to join me?? (Although I aprreciate that I wasn't completely solo as I had company for a couple of hours on day 4 and for all of day 6).  It was only when Mark told me (during day 6) that he was surprised when I said I was doing it over 7 days that I think I started to realise that maybe I was doing a bit more than just going for a long bike ride!

It has been a whirlwind of emotions.  Happiness and elation at arriving at my destination each night.  Joy at being outside, surrounded by the countryside. Gratitude at the support and generosity of all my friends and family (I'll come back to this point!).  Pain in my legs every day from day 2, and in my bottom (which actually got better as the week went on; good shorts!).  Loneliness, made worse when I was in pain.  Longing to be back in Sheffield with my beautiful husband in our comfy bed.  I could go on!  I've been up and down, multiple times a day, grinning from cheek to cheek, then bawling my eyes out and shouting at my legs and body in pain and frustration!

It has been a truely incredible journey!!  In places I wish I had had more time to enjoy the ride and the scenery.  Ive been longing all week to go for a swim (something I did during my tour to Ireland last year, but i was riding much shorter days), but just haven't had the time to stop.  But it would have been a different journey if i'd done it over more than 7 days.  I have hurt, and cried, and screamed, but I have enjoyed every little bit of it!!

The people I have met along the way have been fantastic!  My hosts each night have been wonderful and accommodating.  Rob, the guy from 'Thyme & Plaice' in Helmsdale was my saviour!  He really was incredible!

And you guys!  You have been totally awesome as well!  It can get very lonely cycling for so many miles by yourself.  But having texts and facebook messages with words of support in my back pocket every time I stopped has really helped!  I could not have gotten as far as I did without everyone behind me at home!

Everyone has all been so generous!  Thank you!  You all know by now that I'm raising money for Orchid, a male cancer charity, as my Dad had testicular cancer last year.  (You can read a bit more about it in my first blog post here; an introduction to suffering)  I really appreciate all the sponsorship that everyone has given me.  I also completely understand that at some points we don't always have as much money and can't afford to sponsor each other; but that doesn't matter!  You words of encouragement have helped me regardless of your money!!!

I've sang my way up the country, starting with crap such as the Spice Girls and Frozen, and progressing on to the excellent Wombles and the Proclaimers!  At one point whilst riding up a hill somewhere on day 6 I started singing Frozen and Mark sped off to spite me!!  Fortunately the head wind as we went over the pass of Drumochter meant he couldn'h hear my singing so I sang 'Goodbye' by the Spice Girls on repeat!!

I've seen so many beautiful places.  Fields full of long grass, and buttercups, and calves, and lambs!  Lots of wonderful birds that I can't begin to identify (but I know that Will would be able to; I need lessons please!)

I've experienced a host of different weather conditions (tail winds, head winds, no winds, sunshine, rain, cloud), but fortunately avoided snow and ice!

It's nice to be home again, back in my big bed with my husband.  I want to write and write and write all about my adventure, because there's so many things I want to say and share, although I suspect it will turn into rambling if I go on any further!

I'm recovering; my diarrhoea has abated finally, I've had hours and hours of sleep, and suspect I'm well enough to be back to work tomorrow (expect I forgot to check if my list starts at 10am or 8.30am, so I'll be heading in at 7.30am anyway, nevermind!).  I've been for a relaxing recovery massage with Kate Sheridan, who kindly charged me half price for my massage, so that's yet more money in the charity pot; thank you!!  My body feels better than expected, and already I am missing being on Felix!  I think I'll drive to work tomorrow, have an extra day of rest, then hop back on him on Friday!

Only a week and a half until my next challenge then!  Where I will be trying to Everest Froggatt Hill climb.  I'll post more details next week about this or you can read more on the facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/events/844108868957676/).  If you are free to come and ride for an hour or two with me (esp overnight/ the next morning) or just want to come for a drink inthe pub and to cheer me on that would be appreciated!!!

Until then, I just want to finish by saying what an incredible week I've had, and thank you to all of you who have supported me, either by sponsoring me, or texting or commenting on facebook!  Really, a massive thank you!  I could not have got as far as I did without your help!

One more thing (sorry!); I'm planning to go back up to Scotland and ride Day 7 in one go when I next have some annual leave (after my Swim-Run race, another of my challenges!) in September.  My husband has also pinky promised to ride LEJOG with me on a tandem in 2017 (2016 has too many other adventures on the cards already!); so I will get another chance to finish the journey in one go, this time with some awesome company!  Tom also knows the words to Frozen, so I'll sure we will have an equally great ride!

Thank you again so much for all your support!


Day 0; Felix ready to board the train at Sheffield

Day 1; Felix ready to go at Land's End

Day 1; 6am, waterproof on at Land's End

Day 2; about to leave my B&B in Tiverton

Day 3; end of the day in Wigan; a new use for Felix as a clothes horse!

Day 4; 7am, on the wall on my bedroom; it was a lie!

Day 4; afternoon; time for food at Outward Bound Hackthorpe (they don't have chairs here!)

Day 4; my father-in-law joining me to ride!  The legend that is Will Ripley!

Day 5; my first view of the bridges in Edinburgh (pic doesn't do it justice!)

Day 6; about to set off from Perth with Mark

Day 6; 'It's all good roads' he said!  Mark carrying his bike over mud on a non-tarmac-ed lane!
Arriving back into Sheffield; my new t-shirt, and my favourite teddy Hugo!

LEJOG Day 6 & 7 (An overview from the end)

I've decided not the edit my posts from day 6 and 7, but rather to write new one instead, as I think they speak for the suffering that I was experiencing!  So I'll apologise if i overlap, but I'll start by writing about day 6 and 7 again here, then write an overview of my week in a new post!

Day 6; Perth to Inverness
On the evening of day 5 my friend Mark and his lovely girlfriend Bella (who I hadn't met before) came down to join me for the night in Perth (they live up in Elgin as Mark works at RAF Lossiemouth).  We met up and went out for dinner; perhaps where my downfall was to begin!!

We chose a very good curry house called Tabla and tucked into a delicious meal, the best I'd had all week!  I had already started to struggle with food, and my bowel habit was not looking good (sorry, I'm a medic, it's quite normal to talk about these things...) so I was relieved to find the curry appetising and to be able to eat a good sized portion.

After food and a good catch-up we headed back to our respective hotels, and I got my head down for a good night's sleep at my B&B (Rowanlea Guest House; I'd recommend it to anyone passing through!).  7am and I'm up again for breakfast, before heading over to meet Mark at his hotel.  By 8.30 we are on our way (after he had finally finished his breakfast and stopped faffing!).

As I've probably mentioned before, riding LEJOG in 7 days means sticking to bigger, more direct roads, rather than following winding minor roads and B roads.  Well day 6 runs for me runs from Perth to Inverness; up the A9!!  Fortunately, I had already been told about the multiple smaller roads that follow the A9 most of the way up, so had planned my route to follow these, with only short sections on the A9.  Mark knows what I'm like so insisted on me showing him the route on my maps, and persuading me not to follow the A9 out of Inverness, but instead to follow the National Cycle Route (no7) instead, insisting it was all on roads or tarmac!

As you'll see below (the photo of Mark lifting his lovely new bike over large muddy puddles) early on we hit a track that was not tarmac-ed!!  Fortunately Felix is a bit less precious than Mark's new carbon-fibre Canyon, so rode through like the trusty steade he is!  Thankfully after that though, we followed nice quiet roads up as far as Dunkeld before only a short bit on the A9 (where the cycle route diverts well out of the way!).  My legs were making slow progress unfortunately, and a slightly later than hoped for start (that is not a dig, don't worry!) meant we didn't make it to our brunch stop at the House of Bruar (just north of Blair Atholl) until about 11.30.  We met Bella for lunch.  Mark had said I could put my handlebar bag in the car as Bella was following us north, but given my unsupported plan I decided to keep it with me.  By this point I was already starting to get bad abdominal cramps, but figured I was probably just constipated.

After lunch we headed up and over the pass of Drumochter, in a tough headwind, with intermittent rain, following the cycle path that ran parallel to the A9.  The pass of Drumochter was way better than I had expected.  I think my legs had warmed up by this point, and having Mark to shield me from the wind certainly helped!!  As the hills eased off, we picked up some speed and whizzed our way to Newtonmore (for a quick drink and cake stop at Ralia; v friendly!).  The cycle path was mostly ok, but in parts was covered in gravel; not good at 20+mph with 23mm road tyres on!  Swearing and braking ensued, not a happy Nikki!  Thankfully I remained vertical for it, and got to the end of the day without  puncture!

After Newtonmore we followed a B road through Kinguisse and on into Aviemore.  Mark picked up the speed on the flats, but my legs were not having it, and felt thoroughly fatigued by the time we stopped at the ActivCafe in Aviemore.  Still 40 or so miles to go, feeling rough, we stopped for food; a cheese toastie, hot chocolate and a glass of milk for me (they didn't do milkshakes!!).  Back on our bikes now, we continued, up through Carr Bridge on B roads, and then following the A9 on a cycle path, almost all the way to Inverness.  Just before Inverness the cycle road runs out (or else takes you on a very long detour into the city which my legs weren't willing to do!), so we hopped back onto the A9 for a short stretch of dual carriageway, first uphill, then speeding down into Inverness.

I had struggled during day 6, with stomach cramps, had started to struggle with temperature regulation, feeling really cold despite wearing what I'd normally ride in in winter, and cried a lot!  At one point (on the climb out of Carr Bridge) Mark asked if I wanted to stop so he could comfort me, but no, I just wanted to keep going and arrive!!  Finally, before 8 at night, we arrived at the Youth Hostel in Inverness, who had kindly saved me dinner (I'd rang through earlier to say I'd be arriving late and to save as much carbs as possible!).  I said goodbye to Mark and Bella, put my bike away for the night, then headed inside.

It had been great riding with Mark; I think I would have really struggled by myself, and having someone to chat to, and catch up with was great!  It was lovely to meet Bella as well!

At some point during the day I saw a red squirrel!  I've never seen one of these before, and told Mark to remind me at the end of the day to add it to my blog!  He reminded me, and I've remembered again!

I headed in for my dinner, and ate before showering.  I sat and cried into my meal; a plate of lasagne and chips, forcing myself to eat because I knew I needed the calories, but not really wanting to.  I was feeling like crap, shivery, headachy, and still those bloody stomach cramps!

I headed up to my room; I'd booked a 'micro' room which meant I didn't have to share a dorm, but was sharing a bathroom a couple of doors down from my room which was fine with me.  It was appropriately named and was tiny, but it was my space to that was ok!  After a long hot shower, I headed to bed with plenty of fluids next to me (including Irn Bru) so that I could rehydrate as the night went on.  Unfortunately from about 1am I was up every half hour having diarrhoea, and hot sweats, soaking the sheets through.

Day 7; Inverness to where?
Breakfast wasn't until 7.30 in the hostel, so I had a slightly later start of 7am, and got up, not feeling particularly refreshed, and got ready to go.  To be fair, I felt better than when I arrived the night before, and had at least stopped crying (much to the relief of Alistair, the kind guy on the front desk of the hostel).

I headed down for breakfast to find the canteen full of Americans; I listened to their nattering as I munched some toast and cereals (because porridge was not an option; how is this the case in Scotland??).  Shortly after 8am, and I was back on my bike, and headed to Morrisons to pick up more paracetamol, ibuprofen and Imodium (taking a dose there and then along with yet another poo...).  I was trying to convince myself that my diarrhoea was just due my constipation, rather than obviously being an infective diarrhoea given the temperature and sweating I'd had.  I know Imodium is never the best idea with an infective diarrhoea, but sometimes needs must!  I was never going to get anywhere otherwise!

By 8.30am I was on my way, this time following the A9, then the A99 all the way to John O'Groats!  Only 125 miles to go!  My body hurt, I felt crap, but hey, my legs were still spinning (all be it a little bit slower)!  After about an hour I needed my first toilet stop, and more Imodium.  At 3 hours (having only cycled 38miles), I allowed myself a food stop and struggled to eat a cheese toastie in Tain.  I has alternating between waves of adrenaline and happiness (I can do this, I can actually do this, it's my last day, big grin on my face smiley), and sheer suffering (think cramps, nausea, pain all over).

North of Goldspie things started going wrong (after yet another toilet stop).  I'd hardly eaten any of the food I was carrying, certainly much less than I would have at 50miles on any of the other days.  I stopped to lie down for a few minutes and close my eyes on a particularly attractive looking patch of green grass before getting back on and spinning some more.  Next time I stopped the vomiting started.  Things were not looking good.

I pushed on to Helmsdale where I saw signs for the 'Thyme & Plaice' cafe, welcoming cyclists.  I pulled over and headed up, absolutely broken, tears streaming down my face.  I thought if I could just eat and drink something I might be able to keep going; it was after all only another 55 miles to go.  I managed to drink some Vimto which helped, and a bit of tea, but couldn't face food.  I'd ordered a scone but it sat untouched in front of me.  The kind owner (Rob, a yorkshireman) then put some flapjack in front of me, and offered me a smoothie.  I called Tom, and my father-in-law Will who both insisted that I could do it!  My friend Mel then rang after seeing my distressed facebook post.  I explained I'd been poorly all night, and was now struggling to eat after vomiting.  I think I needed someone to tell me it was ok to stop, and that's what Mel did.  I hate to quit!  I am not a quitter, and failing felt so bad (as if I didn't feel bad enough anyway!).  But my body was broken.  I was utterly, completely broken.  How can you ride another 55miles without food?  Retrospectively, riding 70miles already given the state I was in was pretty impressive.

Rob recommended a good local B&B to me, and after ringing to check they had a room, drove me and Felix up in his van (it was at the top of the hill, the last thing I needed when this broken!).  Rob is honestly the kindest man I have met on my journey!!  The couple at the B&B were lovely.  I went straight to bed (at 4.30pm) and was brought some toast in bed a couple of hours later which I managed to eat cold at about 8.30pm.  At this point I started to feel a bit more positive; if I can eat maybe I'll b able to finish?  I needed to be at Wick by 8am, but it hardly gets dark in Scotland, so I spoke to the B&B owners and hatched a plan; setting my alarm for 2.30am ready for an early morning hit on the last bit of the journey.  I continued to swing a temperature and to sweat through the night, and at 2am was up again with more diarrhoea.  I turned my alarm off, accepting I was broken.  I would not be reaching John O Groats this time round.

Day 8; Accepting Defeat
Instead, I got up at 8am, managed a bit more toast, then biked up down the hill to the station, calling in at the cafe to thank Rob again for looking after me.  I then caught the same train south that I would have gotten on at Wick, and spent most of yesterday on a train, with intermittent episodes of diarrhoea.

Fortunately my diarrhoea is now settling, so provided it doesn't restart once I move back onto solid food, I'll be back at work again tomorrow.  The extra day of rest has been appreciated!

I didn't make it to John O Groat's, but what a journey!!!

Monday, 8 June 2015

Day 7; Inverness to Helmsdale (because I failed)

a quick update to stop anyone worrying that I haven't arrived anywhere.  I was due to bike 125 miles from Inverness to John O Groats today.    I had a rough nights sleep last night, with diarrhoea every half hour and sweating profusely.

This morning I got up, took Imodium, paracetamol and ibuprofen and set off feeling worse for wear.  I set off anyway, but was struggling, alternating between hot sweats and shivering, feeling like crap.  Before too long the vomiting started as well.  I made it to 70 miles and pulled over into a cafe, feeling shocking.  Struggling to eat and drink I dot think I had it in me to do another 55 miles.  InsteD I sat crying and sufferings, trying but failing to eat.

The cafe owner (Thyme & Plaice in Helmsdale) was amazing, encouraging me, getting me multiple drinks, putting different food in front of me to see if I could eat anything.  I made a tough decision not to keep going.  It would have been stupid to try and ride another 55miles without food or drink.  The owner recommended a B&B to me, then dropped me and my bike off there, refusing my to let me pay for anything.  What a kind soul!!

I've been in bed since about 4.30, and haven't managed to eat anything, despite being brought toast by the lovely B&B owner.  I would like to try and finish then ride tomorrow but suspect I won't be up to it unless I miraculously get better overnight.  I've come so far, and feel so disappointed to have failed so close to the end, but 55 miles is a long way to ride when feeling this rough.  I want to get home in one piece, not end up in hospital.

Sorry for failing and letting people down. I really did try my hardest.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Day 6; Perth to Inverness (Will be updated once I'm less broken...)

Today has been horrendous.   Forget 'enduring love', instead think enduring pain.  I'm exhausted after a long day on the bike in a head wind with lots of hills.  Encouragement from Mark and Bella has been so appreciated (as has mark acting as a wind break, and comforting me as I howled with tears).

Today's route roughly followed the A9, but only did 2 very short segments on it.  Instead we followed B roads, minor roads and a cycle path north, fighting a strong head wind over the Pass of Drumochter.

I am in my bed in the youth hostel in Inverness and I am broken.  I don't know if I can do tomorrow's ride.  Everywhere hurts, including my right triceps (which is much more painful than I can explain).  I've rubbed ibuprofen in the appropriate places and am about to get an early night.

I'm scared about tomorrow.  I've come so far and really don't want to be beaten.  I don't want to fail and let everyone down, but I'm not sure I can do it. :(. Anyway, an early night for me, hopefully I will feel fresh inn the morning, ready to slay this beast!

The stats:
Distance; roughly 117miles (my garmin says 115 but I forgot to turn it on briefly).
Av speed; 13.1mph
Ride time; 8hr46
My garmin won't work out ascent; it's saying 2m but I can assure that is wrong!

And my charity page is www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers. Because this suffering has to be worth something!!! Help me raise money for Orchid, a charity who support people like my Dad and help to fund research into male cancer.  Thank you!

Saturday, 6 June 2015

LEJOG Day 5; Ecclefechan to Perth

I made it!!!  Woohoo!  (Yes, I know I'm not at the end yet, but making it to the end of today has been more than enough of a challenge!)

Today has been mostly about suffering...

I left Ecclefechan at 8am after a good breakfast.  My B&B for the night had been lovely.  Despite all this exercise I'm sleeping very fitfully though and was awake a few times in the night.  I left Ecclefechan with stiff, sore legs (nothing new there then...) in the rain and headed north on the B7076, a small road that follows the M74 northwards.  Wind and rain are never a good thing to start with, but add in hills and you are on to a loser!  The road seemed unrelenting, and having initially felt ok, my legs were suffering.  There was none of the freshness that I'd had on Shap the day before...

At this point I was seriously wondering whether I would be able to finish today, and was aware that I wasn't that far from the Lake District... Maybe Will or Nicky could come and rescue me?  It certainly crossed my mind.  But I am NOT a quitter!!  I am a crier though, so shed a few tears with the pain and frustration of it all.  I need to remind myself that I have chosen to do this!  No one is making me.

I made it to Abington at 40 miles, hoping for some food.  Unfortunately all I found was a corner shop with a hot drinks machine.  So I had a hot chocolate; better than nothing!!  What I did find though (quite excitingly!) was another cyclist heading north on LEJOG!!  David is a lawyer from Canada, riding LEJOG over 2 weeks (with a week off in the middle to work).  We had a chat and set off from Abington together.  He was heading north via Glasgow, and was much more heavily laden with 2 pannier bags on a hybrid.  I waved goodbye after a mile and two but it was nice to chat and see a friendly face.

After Abington the road continued uphill for another few miles and a relentless cross wind picked up, threatening to blow me across in front of traffic.  Not a nice experience.  I shouted at myself to pull myself together and get riding.  I starting singing 'the Wombles' and the Proclaimers (thanks Jo and Dan; they were good!) and before long the hills had ended and I was treated to some beautiful downhill! Well, it wasn't beautiful, it was grey and bleak, but a down is a down right??

I turned off at Douglas and headed north-east, skirting around the edge of Lanark.  The roads were nice and the miles rolled by a bit easier.  I finally found somewhere to stop and eat; a cafe in Forth.  After a quick refuel, I headed on towards Edinburgh and the Forth Road Bridge; my link to the other side!  Due to a closed road I had a couple of dodgy miles on some dual carriageway straight through Livingston, but otherwise made my way to the bridge quite easily,  through Uphill, Broxburn and Newtown.  As I came round a corner the bridges looked into view and looked stunning!  I stopped to snap a quick pic then zoomed off to the bridge.

I got there to see traffic cones and flasing lights; bridge closed to high-sides vehicles and motorbikes. Well I'd already decided I'd be using the path given the horrendous cross winds, so headed over to the pedestrian/cycle lane to find the barriers down and signs telling me it was shut.  I had a quick look and thought I could just lift my bike over.  At this point one of Traffic Scotland's employees sees me so I head over and ask what the deal is.  He can't let me cross but rings his colleague to take me over in a pickup truck.  The next nearest bridge (my alternative option) would add on at least another 30 miles to an already long day.  When he tells me I can't cross, I apologise, then burst into tears.  I've been so far over the last few days and am so disappointed.  I really don't want to go in a truck.  Also, I really like bridges and wanted to ride over this one (I think I would have been an engineer and designed bridges if I wasnt a doctor...).  This man is lovely anyway and doesn't make me feel stupid for crying.  He chats away to me whilst we wait for the truck, and I tell him about my challenges.  He is very understanding!

The truck turns up and I lift my bike over the side by myself (independent women and all that!) and get driven over the bridge and dropped at the other side, insisting that I get out as soon as possible!!  I get back on my bike (having missed 2 miles of riding) and head north on B roads towards Kinloss and then Perth.  In Inverkeithing (just after the bridge) a kind bike shop lets me use their track pump. I've then got about 30 miles to go, 2 or so hours which will fly by.  My legs are tired but they are still going!  I zoom past Loch Leven (beautiful) and through Kinross.  I've had an overwhelming desire to swim this week every time I see water, be it a river or a lake.

I keep my legs moving and arrive at my B&B at 6.30pm, better than hoped given the horrendous start.  I'm now showered, and about to go out for dinner with my friend Mark and his girlfriend Bella.

Today has been really tough.  It's not surprising really!  It's day 5, my legs are so so tired, it's been raining, and worst of all its been windy.  But positives; at least it wasn't a head wind else I don't think I'd have made it!!

Tomorrow I have the luxury of Mark's company up to Inverness.  We will be mostly following the A9 or minor roads alongside it.  Hopefully the wind drops before morning else it will be a tough day (especially for Mark as I plan to hide behind him all day!! Only kidding...). I'm looking forward to riding North, I'm sure the scenery will be stunning in a bleak kind of way.

A reminder of my charity page (sorry...) www.virginmoneygiving.com thank you!!

And thank you for all texts, Facebook messages and song requests, it does help!  Nicky I tried to rap fresh prince of bel air but couldn't remember enough words!!

Today's stats:
Distance; 121.92miles
Ride time; 8hr56
Av speed; 13.6mph (slower again...)
Ascent; 1901m (the most yet I think?)

Friday, 5 June 2015

LEJOG Day 4; Wigan to Ecclefechan

'There is more in us than we know.  If we can be made to see it, perhaps for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.'

Today has been another tough one, clocking in at over 127miles.  Thankfully I've had company in parts to ease me through!

I left Wigan early, at 7.15am, to try and miss some of the rush hour traffic as I had to head through Wigan and Preston in the first 20 miles.  I weaved my way north out of Wigan, up into Ironman UK territory, crossing the bike course twice and even riding along a bit of it for a mile or two.  I was glad not to be doing sheephill climb this year though!  I kept on the A49 up to Preston then had a dilemma; straight through on the A6 (big and busy road) or around the side on a B road.  I opted to go round, and eventually found my way onto the A6 on the North side of the city.

Now one of the problems I am finding is with toilets!!  I'm quite happy to pee in a field if there is one, but can't in a city!  In Preston I asked in a petrol station but nope, no toilet, try the garden centre back down the road (yep, the one that is closed at 8 in the morning right??).  Well anyway,  as I wound around Preston, I saw a mechanics that was open and took a chance.  The kind young guy let me use the loo, thank you!!

After Preston it was on to the A6 which I then followed for most of the day.  My legs felt better today until about mile 30.  I had planned to stop for lunch in Kendal (at 65miles) with Mel, my mother-in-law, so pushed on, to my legs detriment and felt terrible by the time I got there.  Between Carnforth and Kendal again there are two options; either the A6 or the A6070.  I remember when plotting on my garmin that one of these is much hillier than the other.  I couldn't remember which, so took the A6070 as I'd highlighted it on the map.  It felt hilly!!  My legs were sore, and I was now running on empty.  I had a little cry as I kept peddling (well stopping to cry wouldn't help!!) and pushed on to Kendal.

By the way; singing;  I sang sound of music for my mum, and tried a bit of prodigy for Jo; that didn't work so well!

In Kendal I stopped for lunch at the morrisons cafe with Mel.  An enforced half hour break given the slow service, but my legs needed it!  I ate parts of a big breakfast, but couldn't stomach much.  I knew I needed calories though as I still had a way to go before my bed.

After Kendal there is a big climb up and over Shap summit.  I wasn't looking forward to this, aware of how bad my legs were feeling.  Actually though, I surprised myself and made it from Kendal to Hackthorpe (21 miles) in an hour and a half, way quicker than expected!!  Mel cheered me on from the lay-bys, thank you!!  I had been dreading the Shap climb all morning, but I guess my mind made it more of a monster than it really was.

I don't normally ride with music on, but had decided that perhaps a tune would help me.  I put 'A Thousand Years' by Christina Perry on and set it to play out loud, shoving my phone into my snack pouch (I don't ride with headphones, don't worry!!).  My beautiful, talented bridesmaid Jules sang this at our wedding last year, and this enabled my mind to float off to a happier place whilst my legs kept spinning.  I thought about Jules singing in the church whilst we signed the register, and of all our wonderful friends and family, about what a perfect day we had, and how happy I am being married to Tom!  Maybe this is why Shap seemed so good!

Did you know today is Kurt Hahn's birthday?? Well I didn't either!!  In Hackthorpe I was meeting my father-in-law, Will, at work (Outward Bound).  Will had nipped out to get his bag, but I was greeted by his welcoming colleagues; a room full of people and cake!!  Thankfully they were eating cake to celebrate Kurt Hahn's birthday rather than my arrival, but were all very nice.  It's nice to put faces to names.  I just hope they didn't mind me sat on the floor eating and stinking!!

From Hackthorpe Will joined me, along with Isobel (another OB worker), and we rode together to the north side of Carlisle.  Company was appreciated!  Will's colleagues told me I better make him work hard, but he did very well, especially on fat MTB tyres.   Also (as Isobel reminded me) at least Will was out on his bike!

North of Carlisle (after a quick wave and toilet stop with Nicky, Will's partner) and I was back on my way, solo again.  It was a shame to say bye.

I followed a minor road and then the B7076 up into Scotland.  My legs felt surprisingly good to say I was at 110miles.  It didn't last.  After Gretna I was really beginning to flag.  I shouted encouragement at myself, and got moving, arriving into Ecclefechan at 6.30pm.

Since then I've had a bath in a tiny bathtub (I gave up and had a shower, it was too short), inspected my rather sore bottom (the verdict; not good!), and been out to dinner with an old uni friend Emma.  It's been great to catch up and the pie was yum.

Now I'm shattered and ready for bed.  I feel really lucky to have such a great husband and amazing in-laws!  (Mum and Dad don't worry, you've got good excuses, you are both out of the country!)

Tomorrow my little notebook tells me I have 122 miles of hilly suffering.  I will be heading up the B7076 before heading across to Lanark, then to Edinburgh, then up north to Perth.  It certainly isn't getting any easier!!

Today's stats:
Distance; 127.06miles
Ride time; 8hr51mins
Ascent; 1583m
Av speed; 14.3mph (slowing down)

Keep the messages of support going, I really do appreciate them when I'm struggling along!

And a reminder of my charity page as I'm raising money for Orchid, a male cancer charity; www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers thank you!!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

LEJOG Day 3; Ledbury to Wigan

Well, it's been another tough day on the bike for me.  I didn't feel particularly at ease where I was staying last night and was eager to get on my way.  I left Ledbury just before 8 in the morning.  My tired legs were greeted by hills, just what I wanted!!  I had known this was coming though; it's the bit on the map where it says 'Shropshire hills' that gave it away!

The first 2 hours of riding were tough.  My legs just wouldn't seem to get going and I was having to push to do 15mph rather than the previous cruising.  I stopped for a second breakfast in Ludlow.  If nothing else, my legs needed a rest anyway, despite having only done 30 miles.  I'd woken up with a right-sided headache which if anything was getting worse.  This is how my migraines tend to start.  I have migraine tablets (triptans) which are great, but do give me really bad myalgia (muscle pains).  On a normal day I can put up with the pain for the hour or two that it lasts as it beats spending all day with a migraine.  But when I'm exercising it's a tough call.  With already sore legs, I wasn't sure I could take more pain...  But my headache was not getting better and i didn't think I could face 8 more hours on the bike with a migraine so I took a tablet.  Within an hour head was perfect although legs were bloody sore!!

I struggled through and over the hills, up to Church Stretton, then was treated to 10 fast, flat or downhill miles into Shrewsbury (now at 60milss).  My legs were easing so I kept going, and stopped for lunch just below Whitchurch at 80miles in a nice garden centre.

I spent most of the day on the A49, which on a whole is good and not too busy.  Although I did have one near miss when a lorry ran me off the road,  I like to think I'm a considerate rider and will pull over/slow down and wave lorries past.  I was not impressed!

The A49 is mostly surrounded by lovely countryside.  I was quite impressed with a field full of cows with a young calf hiding in the buttercups!  After Whitchurch things became more industrial as I flew over motorways (M56, M62, M6) and weaved through rush hour traffic in Warrington.  From Warrington I turned the maps function on on my garmin (Edge 500) but I find it so frustrating to use!  Fortunately I only went wrong once and made it to my room for the night just after 6pm; above a pub in a rough area of Wigan...  I'm glad of the peace and quiet this evening though, compared with being interrogated (sorry, I mean politely questioned) by the lady whose house I stayed in last night whilst I tried to eat my dinner.

Today was hard, it's been really tough.  Certainly until 60miles in I felt quite lonely, and in a lot of pain.  Thankfully my legs did ease, but also I had a couple of texts that cheered me up; encouragement from my friend Mel, and then a text to say that my friend Mark could join me to bike from Perth to Inverness on Sunday!!  Obviously he picked the shortest day at only 115 miles, but I can't wait to ride together!  Don't get me wrong, I am enjoying the solitude, really, I am!  But it is hard when your legs hurt to keep spinning (and it's only day 3).

My solution today was to start singing, but I forget words so it was mostly just choruses; think spice girls, Frozen, B*witched, ABBA, the Beatles etc.  what I should have done is printed out song lyrics to put in my map case instead (I mean who needs maps anyway, I've got a Garmin with maps right???).

Tomorrow I'm in for a treat.  Firstly the bad kind of treat with what is supposedly one of the worst bits of LEJOG; the long hard slog uphill from Kendal to Shap.  But after Shap I do get a long downhill, and will be stopping at Hackthorpe to change a few clothes, eat a bit of food and pick up my father-in-law from his work as he plans to ride with me up to Carlisle.  I'll then continue up to Ecclefechan where I'll spend the night in another B&B.  This time there are no cooking facilities so I also get my first dinner out, and will be meeting an old uni friend for food in the local pub.  A day of company tomorrow which I'm looking forward it!

Felix is doing well and has found a new role in my life as a clothes horse!  I've washed all my cycle stuff in the machine so it smells lovely and is hanging up to dry draped over Felix.

If anyone wants to send me texts/Facebook messages of encouragement (or abuse as long as it makes me smile) whilst I'm riding that would be appreciated as the mileage is taking it's toll on my legs, but positive thoughts do help!!  Also, song requests are welcome!  I promise to sing your song at a loud volume as I head north on the A6 (if I know it...).

And one more thing to finish with; check your balls!  Since I'm raising money for Orchid, a male cancer charity hehehe.  My jersey says 'ride with balls', but I wish it also said that!


Today's stats come in at:
Distance; 127.66miles (just beating day 1 to become the longest day yet)
Ride time; 8hrs 34mins
Av speed; 14.9mph (also the slowest day yet...)
Ascent; 1339m

As I said before, will all be uploaded to Strava when I get home...

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

LEJOG Day 2; Tiverton to Ledbury

Sit down, stop pushing and spin those bloody legs!!!

Well, today has been challenging!  What was supposed to be a shorter day (115miles) turned into 124miles, with a detour around Bristol for lunch with an old friend.  So not really any shorter than yesterday, or any less hillier either...

Today started with an awesome breakfast at the B&B (Howden House in Tiverton; I would definitely recommend it to anyone passing through!!); porridge with rhubarb, followed by scrambled eggs on toast.  Delicious!!!  I packed up and was ready to ride by 8am.  I headed out of Tiverton towards the M5 before joining the A38, which I spent most of today on.  The A38 is great, nice and wide, and mostly single-carriageway.  You can tell it used to be the main trunk road before the M5 was built, and is wide enough for a cycle lane along large parts of it.

My legs felt tired when I got on my bike, I could tell they had been working hard yesterday.  I got moving, they loosened up and for the first 30 or so miles through Taunton and Bridgewater they felt quite good.  But this didn't last all day.

From miles 50 to 60 I hurt.  The road wound its way around the edge of the Mendip hills; despite going around the edge this obviously involved hills... I spun my legs as much as possible and dragged my sorry ass along, thinking about how terrible the next few days would be.  I wanted to stop on the grass and cry; was this really what I wanted to do??  Fortunately food  and cola kicked  in, and my legs seemed to ease ( that and a nice downhill into Bristol which helped).   After racing into Bristol, I headed west across the bottom of it to meet an old friend, Ross, for lunch.  It was nice to stop and sit in the sun and catch up (it had been a while; 4, 5 years??).   It was also nice to use his foam roller!!! It was the first thing I spotted when I walked inside, then proceeded to lie on the floor and use whilst making funny noises.  A lunch of couscous and salad, washed down with tea, then it was time to get moving again.

Ross accompanied me to the cycle path over the river Avon (next to the M5) to save me getting completed lost, then my Garmin helped me find my way back onto the A38.  Mostly I just use it to record my rides, preferring the old fashioned paper map, but it certainly has its uses in cities and I was glad I'd programmed my route in for that bit.  Once back on the A38 things seemed to fall back into place nicely.  My legs felt great and I was able to increase the pace a bit.  I'd been told to expect hills, but they never appeared.  The miles rolled by nicely until I reached Gloucester at approx 100-110 miles.  I then turned off onto the A417, sad to leave the A38 with its wide carriageways and cycle lane.  As seems to be the norm, the A417 was hilly, just at the end of the day when tired.

Anyone who rides with me will know I am crap at spinning.  I have a tendency to push hard and get out of my seat on hills in far too hard a gear ( you don't get thighs this big by spinning!!  I think though I'd rather spin properly and have smaller thighs...).  This trip for me is supposed to be about learning to spin, taking it steady and not pushing up hills.  Easier said than done when your legs are feeling tired and heavy.  I'm trying though, but occasionally need to shout at myself to remind me.

After a final slog from Gloucester to Ledbury I found my room for the night (in someone's home, booked via AirBnB) then ventured out to get some food from Tescos to cook.  Milkshake and some  cold meat (protein right...)  which I stopped to eat on a bench in a beautiful garden outside Ledbury Baptist Church, then a ready meal and some fruit.  Frankly I just feel sick after it!  Tomorrow the place I'm staying has a full kitchen I can use rather than just using a microwave so I'm looking forward to eating something a bit more fresh and healthy.

I'm tired now, but satisfied.  Today ended better than I had hoped during those middle miles.  My legs are sore and they won't get any better now until after I've finished and rested.  It did cross my mind that I could try and get a sports massage in Wigan tomorrow night but logistics mean no!  My back is also sore, but I've got some ibuprofen gel (thanks for the great idea Jo otherwise I'd have left it at home!) and a few stretches should help.  Time for more fluid and then an early night.

Tomorrow I'm heading up to Wigan via Leominster, then up at A49.  It should be fine until Warrington, then I suspect things will get a bit sketchy as there are a lot of big roads in a small space; I suspect I'll be turning my garmin map function back on then...

As I keep saying, I'm raising money for Orchid (I'm sorry if it gets repetitive, but it's such a good cause, close to my own heart).  Please, if you have any money to spare, think about how lucky you are not to have to get up tomorrow and cycle another 125 miles (or else how foolish I am) and sponsor me at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers thank you!

The stats:
Distance; 124miles
Ascent; 1580m
Av speed; 15.5 mph
Ride time; 7hr59mins

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

LEJOG Day 1; Land's End to Tiverton

Yesterday's train travel went well, and I arrived in Penzance at 17.30 in the evening, having managed a few hours sleep on the train.  Thankfully a kind man who was booked in to the seat next to me didn't mind moving seats when he got on when I explained I was post-nights and trying to sleep!  Susie, the owner of the hostel I was staying in near Land's End had very sensibly suggested getting a taxi from the station with my bike.  What a good idea, especially as i would have been riding in a strong head wind and heavy rain otherwise, phew!!

The hostel was great, and after a large portion (well 2 portions) of lasagne, I sorted my stuff and got an early night, ready for an early start.

Alarm at 05.20, I left the hostel at 6am this morning (well it's unlikely I'd have slept much longer anyway after nights...) and biked the short distance to Land's End.  Obligatory photo of bike and self next to sign, then the day began.  It was still raining, and still windy, but fortunately there it was a south westerly and it blew me in the right direction all day.  It seemed to help when my legs felt tired on a hill and gusted especially hard to help me.

The first 98miles of my journey took me along the A30.  Initially this is narrow and winding until Penzance.  I'd decided on an early start so that I could get this bit out of the way before morning traffic and was glad of it, only seeing 3 cars in the first 10 miles.  After Penzance the A30 becomes dual carriageway and stays like this most of the way to Exeter.  For this reason most people avoid it when doing LEJOG, but my schedule meant it was the quickest way to get out of Cornwall and make a headway into my mileage.  For the most part it was ok, although there were a few hair raising moments when lorries were just too close!!  I mean really, there's two lanes, just pull out ffs!!

After a quick toilet and coffee stop before Bodmin, at 45 miles, I kept riding again until Okehampton ( except for a quick pause to eat lemon curd sandwiches in a layby; yum!!). I turned off the A30 at this point, much to my relief and found a nice cafe for some lunch.  98miles under my belt, and before 1 o'clock too!  My early start had paid off!  At this point I re-evaluated my route; quite simply I couldn't face any more time on the A30!.  Instead I headed north, then East on B roads into Crediton, then up to Tiverton.

Up until Okehampton my legs had been feeling great, and I'd been speeding along at 17mph (with a little bit of help from the wind).  After Okehampton I slowed down.  Partly I wasn't in a rush as I couldn't arrive at my B&B before 4, but also the hills!!!  Between Crediton and Tiverton there are some stinkers!!!  Maybe at the start of the day they would have been ok, but after 120 miles, I span my legs slowly up them.  Fortunately it had stopped raining at Okehamptom so these last 2 hours were much more enjoyable.  I stopped to wee in a field at one point, then the farmer pulled up!!  I told him he'd almost caught me in the act, to which he replied 'that's ok, I'm going in the field opposite first; you've got ten minutes'.  Made me chuckle anyway...

I was relieved to arrive at my B&B early to find the owner here, so checked in, and cleaned the dirt away.  What a warm welcome I've had!  My kit is hanging up to dry, I'm rehydrated, well-fed ( on M&s ready meals) and have even managed a G&T ( again M&S, in a can; what a good idea!!)

Now I'm tucked up in bed, looking out over the rolling hills from my window.

Today's stats according to my garmin:
Distance: 127.29 miles
Ride time: 7hr55mins
Ascent: 1738m (not sure how correct this is)

I'll upload to Strava when I get access to a computer, or back to Sheffield if not before.  Until then, good night from me!  Photos will also follow once I'm not just on my iPhone as I'm not technologically minded enough to be able to update straight onto here.

Oh yes, a reminder that I'm doing this to raise money for Orchid, a male cancer charity.  If you want to sponsor me for my suffering you can at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers thank you to everyone who has already sponsored me!

Monday, 1 June 2015

Suffering Part 4; LEJOG

Today heralds the start of my next adventure!  Having just finished a weekend of nights (and I mean JUST), I'm now sat waiting at the train station in Sheffield, ready to travel down to Penzance (and then on to Land's End).  I feel exhausted and a little sick, but suspect this is due to hunger and tiredness so am munching through a cheese toastie as I write.

Over the next seven days I will then be cycling from Land's End to John O'Groats; by myself, unsupported.  I've wanted to cycle LEJOG for a few years now, and when I started planning my year of suffering this seemed like the perfect opportunity!  Unfortunately none of my friends are stupid enough to join me, and my husband has less annual leave than me so has to go to work instead (that makes a change; it's normally me working whilst he's off having a jolly!).  He also hates biking despite suggesting last night that he wanted to join me!  He just doesn't want to have to fend for himself for a week!

Anyway... weeks of planning have gone into my trip, and it's finally here!  B&Bs are booked along the way, food parcels sent to each place, maps planned both on paper & GPS, and my bike Felix has been serviced.  I'm feeling nervous, but ready.  I couldn't have better prepared. 

I'm worried about the long miles, averaging 125 miles a day.  I'll looking forward to the time alone on the road though, a chance to reflect on life.  'Reflection' is a key word in medicine, so when Tom asked me yesterday if I was going to be reflective enough it took me a minute to realise he meant Hi-Vis!

Due to lack of annual leave (well not lack, so much as wanting to also have 2 weeks in the Alps in July, and already having had 2.5weeks in Kenya and 1 week skiing over the last 12 months; I live for my holidays!) I'm on a tight schedule, with only 7 days of riding time.  Having finished night shift today, I'm travelling down on the train today and start riding tomorrow.  I have a gruelling day tomorrow, with 140miles of biking and 10,000ft of ascent to content with before I arrive at my first stop.  After day 1 my mileage drops a bit thankfully, averaging 120-125miles a day, except for the last day when I will ride 125miles to John O Groats, then have 15 miles back to Wick before catching the train home the next morning.

Felix has spent the night in the doctor's office on HDU, and is now raring to go!!  I'm riding with just a handle-bar bag, so am quite restricted in what I can carry; keep it simple/fast-and-lite!  Thankfully the lady I am staying with tonight has kindly agreed to post a few things home, so I do have a few comforts for the train ride down.  On my return train ride I won't be so lucky, and will be stinking after 7 days of riding... I pity anyone with a seat next to me.

A brief overview of what my journey will entail:
Day 0 (today); trains down to Penzance, then a taxi to Land's End (I would have biked but being post-nights seems like a good excuse!!)
Day 1; bike Land's End to Tiverton
Day 2; bike Tiverton to Ledbury
Day 3; bike Ledbury to Wigan
Day 4; bike Wigan to Ecclefechan
Day 5; bike Ecclefechan to Perth
Day 6; bike Perth to Inverness
Day 7; bike Inverness to John O Groats (then back to Wick)
Day 8; trains back to Sheffield.

The negative of a tight schedule means sticking to bigger roads.  The A30 in Cornwall is notorious for cyclists being knocked off (I hope my Mum reads this AFTER I've arrived in Tiverton...); and it's actually the first single carriageway bit which is the worst.  I've been feeling quite morbid, and worrying about being knocked off and killed.  It's ok, I have life insurance, and Tom knows what funeral plans I want (no black clothes, lots of gin).  In the outdoor world it's not uncommon to know someone who has died in an accident.  I think talking about dying is a bit of a taboo in our society.  I'm glad I know what I want, and that Tom knows too.  But positive thinking, I will be very visible and starting early to avoid the worst of the traffic on the A30.

As I keep mentioning (sorry!), I'm raising money for Orchid, a male cancer charity; my jersey says 'Ride with Balls' on the back.  Maybe it should say 'Ride with or without balls!' though!  You can sponsor my suffering at here at virginmoneygiving and any messages of support/ encouragement/ abuse would be appreciated (well not the abuse, but it might make me smile!).

Felix & myself, before starting nightshift.