My journey cycling the length of the United Kingdom- Lands’ End to John O’ Groats
It was spring last year during an informal chat with my fellow pathology colleague at our annual meeting that I came to know about the LEJOG (Lands’ End to John O’ Groats) bike ride. My colleague was planning to organise this cycling challenge as part of Diamond Jubilee celebration of the Royal College of Pathologists (RCPath) and to fundraise for Cancer Research UK (CRUK). Without any hesitation, I said that I would consider signing up for this challenge. I had pondered on this idea of cycling the length of the UK for a few years now. I was very hesitant and quite scared to attempt this challenge in one go, so I decided to do just the Scottish leg of LEJOG (Edinburgh to John O’ Groats), in 2019. Although I found this ride quite hard, I always felt that I should attempt cycling the whole length of the UK. Finally, in December last year I decided to give it a go, so I coaxed my close friend Raghu (Radiologist @MD Anderson Cancer Centre, Houston, Texas, USA) to join me and he agreed.
The new year began, and I motivated myself to start training for this incredible challenge. The training was a bit irregular and slow paced in the beginning. In April, we got to meet our ride organisers (Cycle Retreats- cycling super couple Mark and Zoe and their wonderful team- Ian, Craig and Cooper) and other participants online. The organisers’ 20-week training programme was helpful to give me some confidence, but I always doubted whether this training was enough to pull through this challenge. I was reassured by Mark and Zoe to stick to the training plan, and I did just that. Months rolled by very quickly with most weekends and a few days during the week spent on long bike rides and the D-day arrived. I started my journey from Plymouth on 12th September carrying my bike in the train to Penzance and then continued to a hotel near Lands’ End. I met my friends Raghu and Alan and a few other participants. Raghu called our small team ‘MAMIL’ (Middle Aged Men in Lycra). I was nervous as was everyone else.
Our entire cycling team at Lands’ End fundraising for Cancer Research UK (CRUK)
The next morning, we braved the wet and windy weather and cycled to the start, the Lands’ End. We assembled for a team photograph and set off to Launceston (95.5 miles) which was our destination for the day. The route was well planned, and everyone had GPX files of the routes on their cycling computers. The first three days (Cornwall and Devon) of the route were extremely hard with never ending soul crushing steep hills and terrifying descents made worse by the slick and wet roads. We nearly climbed 20,000 ft. in three days (Mt Everest- 29000 ft.!). The 4th day was a glorious day on the bike, a recovery day (60 miles), and we passed through the Malvern Hills AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty). Every day, we stopped at the designated morning and afternoon water stations and for lunch mainly at a restaurant or café along the route. At the end of day, we celebrated with good dinner and drinks, sharing stories of our extraordinary challenge. I must say that we all were well looked after and motivated by the organising team as well as by fellow riders. There was always support at hand if needed. Mark, Zoë and their team were incredible. On the evening of day 5 we had an opportunity to meet our college President Dr Mike Osborn, guests from CRUK and Prof Richard Marais (Director CRUK Manchester Institute).
(Left to right)- me, Dr M Gill, Prof S Coupland, Dr M Osborn, and Dr R Brown
At one of our lunch stops we met a gentleman who stopped us and handed a crisp £20 note to my friend and said, ‘they are going to take me out on a slab anyway- if it helps someone else, then I am happy’. He had terminal prostate cancer. I was truly touched by this gesture. We are cycling the length of UK to help raise awareness and funds for Cancer Research UK. The battle against cancer is a relentless pursuit. Research is underfunded and needs our help.
On day 6 we passed through the centre of the United Kingdom. An unfortunate incident close to the finish saw my friend injuring himself and unable to continue this ride. I felt very sorry for him and was on the verge of discontinuing the ride myself, but he insisted on us to carry on this journey until completion. The next few days, I had a tense ride, weather turned slightly better, but headwind started to pick up.
The journey through the Lake district and Scottish Highlands was beautiful with breath-taking picturesque landscapes and equally tall mountains to climb. We passed through a few famous distilleries (Dalwhinnie) and in fact the morning water stop on day 10 was in the Glenmorangie distillery! There were many times during the ride when I felt completely exhausted, and nothing left in the tank especially during the end of the ride when you start to see a climb ahead of you! but as a group we just kept motivating each other and kept pedalling. Along the ride I got to know many amazing friends, their fascinating stories, and their journeys. I hope I can stay in touch with most of them in the future.
The 12th day (last day) was a short ride from Thurso to John O’ Groats (22 miles). The team decided to ride together in one large group until the finish at John O’ Groats. We were greeted by family members and others with a celebratory fizz at the finish. We had ample time to take photographs, relax and enjoy the moment.
I still can’t believe I managed to complete this challenge and will take a long time to come to terms with what I have really achieved. I have cycled 1025 miles, climbed 65000 ft. and spent nearly 90 hrs on the saddle, all in 12 consecutive days! I began to consider this the hardest and greatest achievement of my life and will never be able to emulate this again! I was very lucky to have constant support and encouragement from my lovely wife, my kids and friends, without which I could never have imagined attempting such a huge challenge.
In the end, our team managed to raise more than £40,000 for Cancer Research UK, a commendable effort by everyone. If you had a small contribution in this, my sincere thanks.
That’s it for now, until the next challenge!!
University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust