The Explore Bipolar Highs and Lows Ride is now complete! Explore Managing Director Ashley Toft sent us regular blogs and photos back from the road, read about the team experience of cycling, camaraderie and crashes...
Day 19 - Mon 18th June - Forsinard to John O'Groats
A final team huddle, then we're off for our final day in the saddle. We decide to take the road route along the coast as we have a 3pm taxi transfer booked and Adrian has a plane to catch at 5pm. We follow the Halladale River north and get our first views of the sea... the north coast of Scotland - wow!
Turning right onto the main A836, we soon leave the county of Sutherland and enter Caithness. Pass the power station and onto Thurso. We get an unexpected treat at Dunnet Bay as the sun shines and The Laird (Mike) hands out Viennese Whirls on the beach. We only spotted the 'danger, radioactive sand' notice on our way off the beach! Adrian has to pedal on as we stop to repair the last puncture of the trip... then it's a slow convoy (no racing DG!) to John O'Groats.
Infact not quite John O'Groats... Duncansby Head, a lighthouse and trig point at the furthest northeast point of mainland Britain. No signs, no official end point, just lots of hugs and great cliff views (and photos) across the Duncansby Stacks along the coast. Suzanne and Michael from Bipolar UK come through on the speaker phone to congratulate and thank us. It seems so fitting that the end point of this mad adventure had Duncan's name on it, and he'd have loved a piece of the chocolate cake that we all shared to celebrate!
After 1143 miles in the saddle, it was time to head south for the first time in 19 days... a 5 hour drive to the Station Hotel in Perth and a few drams and a lot of laughs in the bar.
Day 18 - Sun 17th June - Invershin to Forsinard
Our penultimate day, and a shorter ride with less ascent planned, so we decided to have a relaxed start, not leaving until 1030. A few miles of road to Lairg and round the loch, then we headed into the Dalchork Forest, which turned out to be quite a slog along sandy fire tracks.
By 1330 we emerged at the fabulous Crask Inn... wood burning fire, homemade leek and potato soup and sandwiches in an incredibly remote location. The owners are real characters and look after us well, even donating ¬£20 to the cause. Heading east from the pub we hit a narrow grass trail. It's tough going in the wet, and we start to wonder if we've made he right decision with the route as there's 10 miles of wilderness ahead of us. After an hour of climbing we reach the Bealach Easach Pass at 350m, and suddenly realise that we've definitely made the right decision.
The views down across Loch A' Bealach with its small sandy beaches are simply breathtaking, as are those across the wild mountains, valleys and forests in all directions. It's quite a technical rocky descent down to the loch, with a few tumbles along the way. Then the track gets slightly better as we follow Loch Choire along, then Loch Badanloch...getting a bit loched out! Eventually, at Badanloch Lodge we hit tarmac... never has it felt so sweet, after a long tough, but exhilarating three hours of wild mountain biking - probably the best that most of us have ever done.
Still 25 miles to go and it's nearly 6pm. We cross a rail track at Kinbrace then continue north...up hill and down dale...the pace quickening as we approach Forsinard, eventually breaking into sprint races in the last few miles (Team Marshall doesn't even make the medals!). The sun came out and we arrived at The Cornmill Bunkhouse at 2100 in high spirits. Kay, Katie and Jack cooked us the most amazing meal, and it was a great place to celebrate with a few beers, vinos, and the last few drams of Scotch. 67 miles in the bag today. The bunkhouse was further north than we'd expected, so hopefully less mileage than we'd planned for tomorrow's run into John O'Groats. 1101 miles completed and about 40 to go!
Day 17 - Sat 16h June - Drumnadrochit to Invershin
An amazing day of cycling! We leave the Backpackers by 0930 and are soon climbing once again through pine forest, firstly alongside Loch Ness, but soon heading north away from the loch. A tough start to the day as we ascend over 500m in the first hour testing us all to our limits, and a challenging start to Bryan and Andy's first day of riding.
Adrian decides to get a lift up the hill and meets us as we hit the road mid morning. We hit the 1000 mile mark in a pine forest and take a celebration photo. Then pass through tiny hamlets and grab a few munchies in The Muir of Ord (what a great name for a town!). Continuing past lochs, fast running rivers and huge estates, we meet the vehicles for lunch near Garve. Scotch broth in midge nets followed by Mrs Rath's amazing flap jack... then we're off through the Strathgarve Forest, before emerging into an open wilderness (The Inchbae & Glencalve Forests) which has to be one of the most remote places in Britain. It's a great track (phew!) and the views in all directions are spectacular.
We pass a small disused bothy on the edge of Loch Vaich but apart from that there are no buildings, no roads.. nothing, just pure beautiful wilderness. As Mike described it on the map - only lochs and contours! As the rain came in it seemed to add to the atmosphere of this stark landscape. We all felt invigorated by the ride this afternoon, especially as we had a welcome descent all the way to The Kyle of Sutherland and Invershin. We crossed a railway bridge (narrow meshed walkway) which was right opposite the Invershin Hotel. A welcome sight, especially the bar with log fire! 75 miles complete today, taking our total to 1034 pedalled so far.
Day 16 - Fri 15th June - Gairlochy to Drumnadrochit
A wet, windy and cold day. We cooked up a vat of porridge which set us up well for the day, then Johnny and I head for Fort William and cycle via Neptunes Staircase along the Caledonian Canal back to Gairlochy. There's a strong headwind which makes the pedalling tough. The Great Glen Way climbs up through pine forest as we follow Loch Lochy north.
We ride on good tracks all day climbing up high then descending to the waters edge again, the wind forming not insignificant waves on the lochs. We follow Loch Oich to the locks then follow the canal to Fort Augustus for lunch. The afternoon is spent following Loch Ness as far as Drumnadrochit, climbing some of the steepest and longest hills so far.
Shame the weather isn't better but still some amazing views back along Loch Ness... it's absolutely massive. We arrive at the Loch Ness backpackers and glug our recovery drinks. Bryan Black and Andy Mills have arrived today, cycling down from Inverness via a few pubs by the sound of it! Posh meal in the Loch Ness Inn and watch England scrape a 3-2 win over Sweden - the first time in several decades.
Day 15 - Thu 14th June - Kinlochleven to Gairlochy
We cross the road outside the hotel and are straight back onto the West Highland Way. A steep climb through the forest over tree roots and boulders is tough, with plenty of sections having to be walked. The estimated 2 hours to the bottom of Ben Nevis takes us 3.5 and a few of us take a tumble along the way... I hit a rock between the pedals and fly over the handlebars, opening my elbow up on a passing rock, which means another visit to A&E for a few stitches. The doc was a happy Explore customer so treated me gently. And compared to some of the downhill world cup racers that were in last weekend, my injuries were tame!
Meanwhile, the weather was being kind, and most of the riders plus Kay, Jack and Katie all climbed Ben Nevis. A decision was taken at lunch not to take bikes, so this was to be a trek to the highest point in Britain.. They got some great pictures with our banner at the summit (1344m) despite the high winds and cold. I did some 'extreme' shopping (got a bit carried away!) at Morrissons in preparation for a BBQ at the cabin/lodge, which turned out to be in a beautiful location on the shore of Loch Lochy (they must have run out of names!) 12 miles north of Fort William.
Shared a wee dram of Ben Nevis 12 year old Scotch by the loch as the sun went down...before being driven inside by the midges. Johnny's mate Adrian arrives by taxi at 11pm - he will join us for the last four days of the ride. Only 12 miles completed by bike today, taking us through the 900 mile mark to 905 miles. Some of the guys cycled from the Ben Nevis visitor centre to Gairlochy, so they get a lie in tomorrow! The rest of us will be transferred back to Fort William to do that extra 12 mile stretch.
Day 14 - Wed 13th June - Strathyre to Kinlochleven
A breakfast of salted water porridge (Scottish style!) and eggs sets us up well for the day. Iona, a friend of Mike's joins us at the hotel and rides for the first couple of hours, as we follow the road through the Strathyre Forest, then turn off onto a great track through the Glen of Ogle.. stunning views and the sun is shining!
Iona recounts stories of Rob Roy and how he herded cattle from Skye down to East Anglia, also how the term blackmail came about (he could name his price for the black cattle). Another stretch on the main road then onto a disused railway... with glorious views into the highlands.
Join the West Highland Way, an old military road at this point, past the well preserved railway station at the Bridge of Orchy. The trail climbs up over Black Mount, with views at the pass down to Glencoe ski resort. Not quite Chamonix, but the mountain scenery is fantastic.
The final 2 hours of the day are spent climbing the aptly named Devil's Staircase, which takes us on rough rocky trails up to 550m...lots of walking and scrambling with the bikes, both on the way up to the pass and coming down the other side. After a couple of punctures and a number of wipe outs we descend some pretty technical trails to Kinlochleven and the Macdonald Hotel on Loch Leven. The most stunning scenery of the trip so far, and certainly the most remote region.
A great day's riding taking us 55 miles, with 1300m of ascent. Since leaving Land's End we've pedalled 893 miles now. Watch Germany knock The Netherlands out of the European Cup in the bar, then brave the midges to get to our cabins. Still not totally dark at 11pm...a reminder of how far north we are!
Day 13 - Tue 12th June - Carronbridge to Strathyre
All looking forward to today as we head into The Trossachs...should be plenty of lochs along the way! Second day in a row that we leave in the dry which is such a boost. Leaving the hotel at 0930 we head straight into the Carron Valley Forest - good trails; good progress... we gave the mossie head nets a try out though decide that if we keep moving we can beat them (they can't do more than 8mph according to Antony).
Through Fintry where we celebrate the 800 mile mark, then into the forest again (Balgair Muir) - a mix of conifers and deciduous trees - the paths soon run out and we're tramping though bog again. The trails in Scotland are proving to be far more unpredictable than in England. Soon we climb to the visitor centre at Aberfoyle - next to a small loch in the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. The sun comes out, lots of cakes & Mars bars and spirits are high.
A long climb through the forest (Dave does some rock jumping at the waterfall!) then a descent to Loch Venachar...absolutely stunning views and a lovely track that follows the shore to the east with some stunning properties along the way. We bypass Callander and hit a disused railway then the Rob Roy Way along the west of Loch Lubnaig to Strathyre and the Ben Shean Hotel. A relatively short 47 mile ride today and our earliest arrival of the trip so far - in the car park and washing down the bikes by 6pm, giving ourselves a bit of extra time to catch-up on blogs, emails and sleep! Martin Pearcy arrives soon after us after dropping his car in Perth, and heads out for a short warm-up ride (bit keen!) before dinner. He will be riding with us for the next six days though to John O'Groats
Day 12 - Mon 11th June - Selkirk to Falkirk
It's not raining! The first time for a long time...decision made to re-route and to keep the steep climbs and offroad to a minimum today, as it's over 80 miles and some riders really feeling the strain. Leave at 0930 and straight onto the main road to Peebles, following the River Tweed. Seven of us in the peloton today and managed 12mph for the first couple of hours. Antony was drooling as we passed the Inverleithen mountain bike centre but no time for him to stop and play.
At Peebles we stopped at the bike shop to buy a few things then had cream teas and coffees in a quaint courtyard cafe. Lunch was pasta at Elsrickle (yes, food has been an important part of this trip!). Leaving at 3pm we still had 40 miles to go. Some big climbs this afternoon... through Forth and down to Eastfield where we crossed the M8 (the main Edinburgh to Glasgow motorway) and bid farewell to Antony as he got a lift to Glasgow to catch a train.
Some short forest sections, some dual carriageway riding and some of the steepest climbs on the ride (1 in 3!) take us up to our hotel at Carronbridge near Denny. The last few miles give us amazing views to the east across the Firth of Forth and Edinburgh. Andy going through the saddle sore stage that we all encountered on days three and four...but we all have plenty to complain about with legs, knees, necks, backs, wrists...
Three of us stay at the Hotel Carron Bridge; the others at Drum Farm B&B where we are treated to a fantastic home cooked meal by Jessica (the chocolate brownies were to die for!) and entertained by five-year-old Brooke and teddy bear Archie. A lovely spot (despite the midges!) and a fun evening to finish a long 'mostly on-road' day. 83 miles cycled and 1405m of ascent. The total now 791 miles with a week and 400 miles to go!
Day 11 - Sun 10th June - Longtown to Selkirk
A relaxed start today as in theory it's a shorter day! Roland and Dave waved us off at 1000 and we headed north out of town on the main A7. After two-three miles we crossed the border into Scotland, stopping for a celebratory photo. 100 metres on and there was a 'heavy rain forecast' traffic sign...we climb on top for a commiseratory picture! Soon we head off the road into beautiful rolling hills and pass through a huge and well kept estate. Incredibly remote here with no phone signal, which was a challenge as we got to Jameston at the end of the road to find that the vehicles were not there to meet us for lunch.
A great spot to wait and eventually thy arrive - the first time the bikes have beaten the Volvos! After lunch we climbed into the Craik Forest in Eskdale Muir. Great tracks through pine forest, however they soon run out and we yomp through wet mossy grass and heather for miles - knackering! Navigation goes a bit-pear shaped this afternoon and we emerge onto a small road for a long and wet road ride to Selkirk. Eventually arrive at the Heatherlie House Hotel at 8pm. Very welcome hot showers and great meal with haggis on the menu! Another long and exhausting ride in the rain - and a total of 65 miles (13 miles more than planned ) and 708 miles in total.
Day 10 - Sat 9th June
Andy and Antony arrived late sat night; so good to see Andy back after the big accident on day 2. His bike is fine and his injuries seem to be getting better all the time...hopefully he'll be able to ride with us okay. Shame to be leaving The Mill as a perfect set-up for what we need. Big huddle to start the day and bid farewell to Michael and Sophie. Depart by 0930. Three miles into Appleby where the annual horse fair was in full swing; crowded with travellers, some of the younger boys in smart suits, the young women done up to the nines! As we pedalled through the barrier the police warned us of high speed horse and traps being warmed up for races...incredible how fast they moved! It was an amazing atmosphere, though a bit threatening at times, but a great way to start the day.
Soon we were climbing up Knock Fell, the road climbing about 600 metres over three miles. Incredibly steep and an exhausting slog at walking pace, but the views were stunning as we reached 755m, the highest point on the journey so far.. a real high! The track down was tough going. We were hoping for a fast single track, but instead it was rocky, boggy and involved several river crossings. Whilst fun, it was tough going and really slowed us down, not helped by our route taking us through footpaths and over stone walls (hundreds of them!) as we approached Alston.
We didn't arrive into Alston until about 3pm for a late lunch in a cafe. Then as we left it chucked down with rain. This was a real low point for me; physically I was exhausted and it took a lot of mental energy to get going again. Some food and a quick stretch on disused railways was a boost (despite the rain...when is it going to stop?!). A few more punctures, a bit of getting lost, and a quick stop at the footpath that is Hadrian's Wall (no stone wall here!), then onto Longtown by 20:30...quite a late one! The Graham Arms had stopped serving food, so we ordered an Indian and pizzas. Only two miles from the Scottish border now! 59 miles completed and a grand total of 643 miles
Day 9 - Fri 8th June - Slaidburn to Appleby
We scared ourselves looking at the route profiles at breakfast this morning - two monster climbs to look forward to in the first 20 miles. As well as Martin Rath and Ric doing a second day, we were joined by Martin Laverick, ably supported by Michelle and Ruby and Lilly, plus Roland and Dave who ride with Andy in Reigate. Also Sam, a keen mountain biker and friend of Martin. So a team of 12 left Slaidburn at 0930 after a group photo at the Hark of Bounty pub.
We were soon climbing into the Fells through the Forest of Bowland to a high point at the Cross of Greet (427m). Rather than constant rain today, it was drizzle mixed in with torrential downpours - and everything was soon soaked through. A long descent through stunning moorland took us to High Bentham, then Ingleton for an early stop. Sam took us straight to Bernie's caving cafe for tea cakes and tea. This is one centres ingest pot holing centres in England - the cafe was rammed full of kit and equipment. With his local knowledge, Sam led us today (good job as Garmins were running out of battery or didn't have the day loaded - doh!). So we were soon offroad, heading into North Yorkshire and the dales...literally heading up hill and down dale! Lots of rocky tracks...lots of mud and some quite technical stuff as we headed up over Whernside.
Spectacular views despite the weather as we descended to Dent - a beautiful cobbled village within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Back onto our original route at Gawthrop then followed the River Dee along to Sedbergh where we used the shelter of the Old School House for a late lunch of pasta, cream scones and Eccles cakes. Another climb out of town and we were soon tracking the M6, then back onto grassy tracks up to the Great Asby Scar...rocky outcrops creating a real moonscape as we headed over the top. Rick did a great job on rough terrain on his tourer (not sure he'll do that again!) and Martin's jump from the bike was impressive!
As we free wheeled into Great Asby there were lots of travellers and horses, all in the area for the annual Appleby Horse Fair. Ormside Mill was tucked away, but a perfect set-up with drying rooms, barns for bikes and a large communal area....even an open fire. Katie arrived to join the support team and was immediately involved in washing muddy clothes with Michelle and Kay. Michael and Sophie knocked up the most wonderful sausage casserole and then produced a 'Half Way' cake reminding us that today we'd gone through the half way mark, with 584 miles completed.
Day 8 - Thu 7th June - Northwich to Slaidburn
The only time it wasn't raining today was when we were having breakfast! We were joined at the hotel by Johnny's brother Martin and three mates Ian, Chris and Dan. We set off at quite a pace on backroads. Great Budworth was a beautiful and picturesque village with Jubilee bunting still up and life size royal mannequins infront of every house - a great spot for a break and to get a Tweet away. Crossed the Manchester Ship Canal at Partington, then had an early pasta and Mars Bar lunch at midday. Rob's knee was on fire so he decided to rest it, and also took his bike to be fixed.
We cut through to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and covered some good ground on quick towpaths. We hit the 500 mile mark at a picturesque lock and took celebratory photos under a sign along the canal for Leeds and Blackburn. High tea was taken at Hoghton at the 58 mile point - cream teas and malt loaf being a major highlight for the day, though it was exposed and everyone got chilled. The last section turned out to be longer (27 miles) and steeper than we'd expected, with the climb up to Waddington Fell (385m) being a real killer for all of us at the end of our 84 mile day.
We crossed the cattle grid into The Forest of Boland - beautiful and very barren at the top, but as we descended the views across the lush valleys below were stunning - a kind of mini Lake District tucked away without the tourists is how Martin described it to me.
Arrived in the lovely village of Slaidburn at 20:30 and were met by Phil and the team from East Street Cycles who stripped, cleaned and fixed all the bikes - a fantastic effort and much needed at this point.
Jacket potatoes and beans, cheese, tuna for dinner and rhubarb tart and custard... just what the doctor ordered! Johnny takes Ian, Chris and Dan to Preston Station. A tough tough day and all quite happy to crash out early at the Youth Hostel. East Street finally finish the last bike at 00:30, so a late night for a couple of us. Total mileage now 529 miles with 8 days out of the 19 complete.
Day 7 - Wed 6th June - Dudley to Northwich
Ali and Chris rocked up as we were eating breakfast. They are Team Lundbeck.. from the pharmaceutical company who specialise in mental health research and development including bipolar. So great to have them join us for the day. Slapped the suncream on before we headed off as the sun felt strong. Soon back to the Worcs and Staffs Canal. Very pretty, lots of narrow boats and a good tow path. We made great progress in the first couple of hours, not realising we'd passed through Wolverhampton until we looked at the map. Then turned off onto the Staffordshire Union Canal. Straight away we could see that the towpath was different...narrow, grass covered and muddy...it was tough going, not helped by the fact that we'd used recovery drink instead of energy drink. We're really understanding the importance of getting nutrition right now.
At the 400 mile mark we celebrated by holding bikes aloft on top of an unusual high bridge with double parapet. They must have built it for us! Everyone glad to see the vehicles at The Wharf Tavern just before Market Drayton for lunch - thick veg soup and bread, mini pasties, pasta and malt loaf...a great refuelling stop in an idyllic location...thanks once again to Kay, Jack, Michael and Sophie who are looking after us so well.
Leaving the pub we hit the worst section of towpath so far - a lethal combination of mud, slippery cobbles and a narrow path right next to the canal with nettles the other side. Mike didn't unclip in time and ended up precariously close to 'doing a Bruce' with his upper body and head dangling over the water. Johnny had a close one too and landed on the coping stone on his knee - ouch! We diverted off the canal after 38 miles and after a couple of steep climbs rejoined our route at Audlem. Chris had 'bonked' early in the day and really struggled with the hills - we gave him Torq gels and sports beans...And provided a slipstream for him. Ali had two punctures, had his rear brake disintegrate and lost his wedding ring...not his lucky day! However, everyone cracked on as the rain came in, mostly on backroads, but also on tracks through Little Budworth Country Park.
We arrived at the Sandiways Premier Inn (Blue Cap) in two groups today...Chris getting a second wind and powering his way to the hotel with Bruce and me, whilst more punctures were being repaired a couple of miles back. Fiona from the Bipolar UK office in Crewe was there to cheer us in with her family which was a great way to end the day. Bikes cleaned and into a hotel room. Quick meal and bed. 72 miles in total today...and the end of our first week of cycling. Hard to believe we are right up in Cheshire now...well over a third of the way, with 445 miles on the clock.
Day 6 - Tue 5th June - Staunton to Dudley
Slept really well in the tents, but woke to rain. Ian Jackson, (who works with Johnny) joined us at breakfast - he will ride to the Malverns with us then back to pick up his car. Said an emotional farewell to Zoe who joined us in the morning huddle. After leaving behind schedule at 1000 (to a fantastic farewell song of 'we love you riders we do') we headed north (as always!), and soon started climbing towards The Malverns. After a steep ascent through the forest at Little Malvern, we followed the contours round with occasional stunning views through the trees, then climbed from Little Wyche, crossing into Herefordshire as we climbed above the tree line to the Worcestershire Beacon, and the highest point of the trip so far (425m). What incredible views...in all directions too! Another of those points that made me say 'this is what it's all about'...as the mud and the sweat were all worthwhile....and we all agreed we were so glad to be doing it offroad.
A fun steep descent to North Hill, where Rob did a spectacular wipeout (Tim missed it on the head cam despite best efforts), though he chose a nice grassy area to do his somersaults so thankfully was unhurt. As we descended to the plain the rain came in and it was heads down to try and make up some time and mileage. A combination of backroads and muddy red tracks (podzals apparently!) took us north as the rain got harder. Just as I was thinking what do I write for this section of the blog, Bruce provided the entertainment. After a particularly muddy field crossing he decided to dunk his bike in a lake to clean it, but due to the weight lost his grip. As we grappled to save his new bike, Bruce decided to leap in...so we had Bruce and his bike (and panniers!) to rescue. All 3 were fine, but soaked through - luckily he has a waterproof camera, but other electrical stuff to be checked later. Being a good sport he cracked on, and in fairness he wasn't any testier than the rest of us! An eventful day so far and we didn't reach our lunchstop at Astley Cross until 5pm. Very welcome hot pasta and Sophie's homemade flapjack which was fantastic! The final stretch was to Stourport on Severn and then along the Worcs and Staffs Canal for about 20 miles... locks, narrowboats, dog walkers, pubs, Kidderminster Cathedral and rain! We eventually reached the Best Western Hotel in Dudley (the accents are definitely brummie now!) at 19:45. Clean and lube the bikes, quick shower (body, clothes and shoes!), then down to dinner. Another long day complete, but full of excitement and variety. Bikes and riders all seem in surprisingly good shape...apart from all the aches and pains! Another 58 miles ridden today taking our total to 373 miles, so over a third of the way there...
Day 5 - Mon 4th June
Very exciting to see so many of our wives, partners and kids join us at breakfast. 12 of them will join us for the entire ride today, with others joining at the Forest of Dean. Once bikes are ready to go, sun cream on and a briefing and morning huddle taken place we leave at 0930. Descending from Alveston we can see the Old Severn bridge ahead of us. 20 minutes later we are taking group photos, before heading across the mile long bridge into Wales.
The sun is shining and we are met at the end of the bridge by Sue Wigmore and Huw from Bipolar Uk in Wales. Great pics by the 'welcome to Wales sign'. Bypass Chepstow and only a couple of miles later enter Gloucester in England. So only a brief visit to Wales this time! After a long ascent on the main road to St Briavels we then take some great muddy tracks and grassy lanes (it's grown a bit since we recced it!) into the Forest of Dean to meet the families and more riders at the Nagshead nature reserve.
We are now 22 riding. Thrilled that my cousin Claire and steve and the kids are able to join us - though not sure if Tabitha's bike is going to make it! Soon Dad (Steve) is wheeling it back to the car, whilst Dave and I tempt a grumpy teenager into pedalling and tramping up hills through pine forest to Plump Hill (think she quite enjoyed it by the end!). At Plump Hill we all meet up for a huge picnic lunch for about 50 people, sponsored by Team Green (ta Dave) and prepared by our superb support team. More great team photos with our new (huge!) banner then back into the forest and some steep and muddy sections which keep the kids amused and terrify some of the mums and dads!
The rest of the day was through beautiful villages and back lanes, stopping at some great spots along the way. Many local people showing real interest in what we are doing, offering refreshments and a few making donations along the way (restores the faith in human nature meeting such lovely people along the way!) and the kids give out a record number of 'Highs and Lows Ride' wristbands. Eventually reach Staunton Court campsite at 19:30.
Everyone has done fantastically well, riding either 54, 35 or 24 miles depending where they joined us. Big shout especially to Louise who is the only woman to do a full day so far, and to the boys (Jack, Alex, Joe, Tye, Louis and Freddie) who rode all the way, and to Evie and Chloe the two youngest to complete the 34 mile section. Thanks to everyone who made the effort to join us; it was a wonderful day for us as a team and will stick in the memory for a long time. The sun helped too!
Michael and Sophie arrived, our new support drivers (he works for the charity, Bipolar UK) who are taking over from Zoe who has been an absolute star. We'll miss her - very proud to have such a wonderful mother-in-law, who was a delight to have around and really mucked in.
Went to The Swan Inn for a Diamond Jubilee evening with great barbecued food and watched a bit of the celebrations on telly, Elton John, Robbie Williams and Lenny Henry in front of monster crowds at the Palace. Then into our tents for our only night of camping.
Day 4 - Sun 3rd - Wellington to Alveston
Managed to leave before 0900 today for our longest day of the ride. In less than an hour we had ridden through Taunton and were onto the Bridgewater and Taunton Canal, getting 24 miles under our belts in less than two hours, taking it in turns to carry the union Jack, set the pace and lead the peloton! We celebrated reaching the 200 mile mark for the ride, then crossed the M5 at Bridgewater, before continuing northeast to Axbridge (an impressive medieval town) for lunch just as the rain came down. The rest of the afternoon was a washout. We reached Portishead to find that it was chucking with rain and that we'd missed low tide by two hours - we dipped our rear wheels in the sea to mark the lowest point of our journey. Long steep climb out of Portishead then across the Avon River to Avonmouth. Still raining hard, so heads down through the industrial areas of the city with views of the Severn Bridge to our left in the mist. A final slog up through Olveston to Alveston takes us to our hotel. Rick leads us in in style despite leg injuries, as this is his last stretch. Meet up with Rob and Jules Watts and the boys who are staying in the Premier Inn also, due to their tent being run over at the Staunton campsite! Sounds like it's been havoc there, too wet to put up tents and all cold and wet. Hope the weather's better tomorrow for family day! Kay and Zoe massage sore rider limbs...the couch's first outing! Dinner in the adjoining Ship Inn. Sleep with bikes in the room. 85 miles cycled today and 261 miles in total now.
Day 3 - Sat 2nd - Galford Springs to Wellington
An emotional start as Andy leaves us. He has put his heart and soul into this ride over the last year, and there are tears shed as we wish him well and pray that he can rejoin us later on the ride. Zoe kindly offers to drive him to Reading to be met, and spends the return journey in awful Bank Holiday traffic (reading her book on the M5!),
Meanwhile, my bike is amazingly okay, and I return to do the last 1-2 miles that I missed last night (gotta do the whole thing!). A long road hill up to Bridestowe, then onto the Two Castles Trail and the first of a number of amazing viaducts. Great views and the sun shining. Bruce's bike really playing up as we climb some of the steepest hills so far round Okehampton. Another great lunch, this time in a pub car park at Morchard Bishop and Bruce decides to call ahead to find a replacement bike - his whole drive set has gone. The rain comes in mid pm as we head for Tiverton, then join the Grand Western Canal for the final push to Wellington. Chucking it down with rain as we arrive at the Vintage Inn. Not sure what the locals thought as we dripped our way through the pub. Peter's family are there to meet him after his three-day stint - he'll be missed, as will his best trick of stopping whilst still clicked into the pedals. The band is warming up as we return from our house opposite the cinema for a meal in the pub. Sounds like it could be a lively Saturday night...time to escape for an early night. Total miles covered today, 60, total so far 176 miles.
Day 2 - Fri 1st June - Truro to Galford Springs
Today was a day that really encapsulated the highs and the lows of the ride. After a photo shoot at the Cathedral we headed north on backroads and proper Cornish lanes for much of the morning; amazing spread of wild flowers along the way. After hitting the Camel Trail for a short while we emerged at Hellanbridge where Zoe, Kay and Jack had put on an amazing spread for lunch. We like these new picnic style lunches! However straight after lunch we starting climbing up the monster of a hill that is Merry Meeting, which eventually took us over the cattle grid onto Bodmin Moor. A complete change of scene as we pedalled across open grassland with wild horses running and sheep everywhere. It was such a buzz to be pedalling in such a wild and beautiful place, with amazing views all around. In stark contrast we did a stretch on the A30 soon after, reminding us all why we were doing a 'mostly offroad' ride and not a head down ride on A roads. We crossed the county border into Devon...the final stretch from Launceston to Galford Spings took us on some pretty rough tracks and long grass. We also got charged by a herd of cows and bulls! A long descent unfortunately ended with a high speed collision between two of us, less than 2 miles from our accommodation, as I braked sharply and Andy was checking the route on the Garmin. Andy came off far worse than I did, but we ended up at Exeter hospital being patched up and Andy having his neck checked out - luckily nothing broken but he has soft tissue damage which will stop him continuing. His bike is in a mess as well with both wheels buckled. An emotional evening, with Johnny eventually getting us back from the hospital at 0230 in the morning. Sleep! Total mileage today 63 miles.
Day 1 - Thu 31st May
Finally the big day has arrived. All feeling a bit apprehensive as we munched through our full English breakfasts at the Youth Hostel, then talked through the maps and logistics for the day. Lots to do; bikes back onto the vehicles, mixing energy drink, packing our camelbaks, pumping tyres and stripping the beds before leaving. A 15 minute drive took us to the theme park that is now Lands End - I'm sure that wasn't there when I last went as a kid!
As we parked up, Nicky & Leighton from the Penzance Bipolar Support Group introduced themselves... great to have their support; it makes the whole thing so much more real. Took too many photos at the Lands End signpost and said a piece to camera for Bruce's video... then had to ride along the cliff to find the start point of our digital route. At 10:04 we lined up on the painted start line...and we were off! unlike the roadies who headed along the main road, we hit a lovely sandy track along the coast with superb views across Whitesand Bay.
It soon became more hilly and before long we were up on Boswens Common, and found ourselves tramping through open moorland with gorse around our ankles. We missed a turnoff to one of the trails and soon were carrying bikes over dry stone walls and into fields that we shouldn't have been in - no farmers with shotguns luckily! Chief navigator 'clever Mike' was heard to exclaim 'I'm not really sure which way we should go; it could be over here... or possibly over there!' After a road detour we soon got back on track and hit some unexpectedly muddy trails (who said the trails have dried out?!); Johnny taking muddy puddles at full speed, whilst others tiptoed through nettles to avoid the mud.
We met up with drivers Zoe and Kay at St Erths and had lunch in the garden of The Old Quay House, overlooking the estuary; lovely! The afternoon was more on backroads, but with some incredibly muddy trail sections - Rick losing a shoe as he planted his foot in the quagmire! We came across a number of old tin mines near Cambourne and found ourselves riding disused mining railway lines, now known as the Miners Trail, as we headed for Truro, following the River Allen into the historic city centre.
Heading past the cathedral our hotel for the night was the Riverbank in a lovely setting on the river (as the name suggests!) with new light coloured carpet which soon changed colour as we traipsed through! An hour of bike washing, then a beer and a lovely meal in the restaurant. It was a great first day of riding, despite the fact that our planned 44 miles turned into 53 miles - hope this won't be the case every day!
To find out more or donate visit the Explore Bipolar website.
Wed 30th May
After a few last minute panics...map printing, visits to East Street Cycles and late repacks, everyone reached Bentley ready to head down to our start point at Land's End. By 1pm all 3 vehicles were ready to go - the two Volvos looking fantastic with matching decal stickers and bikes both on the roof and hanging off the back. Everyone admired the 'High & Lows' cupcakes that Claire at Explore had baked, then wolfed them down with a cuppa. Time to go...a couple of waves to loved ones and we were off. luckily we did a quick check on the bikes on the roofs, which hadn't been fully tightened...oh and we had our first puncture! The S-max with Duncan driving heading via Explore to pick up a banner that had been delivered...then onto the M3 and A303 to meet up for lunch at a Little Chef. Kay is driving 'her' Volvo with 13-year-old Jack already proving to be the King of Sat Nav and techno. Zoe drove the other vehicle most of the way to Cornwall, proving that grannies have more energy than dads, as most of the rest of us caught up on emails and texts then seized the opportunity for a siesta. We reached the YHA at Lands End at 8pm. Lovely setting down a narrow Cornish track with views down to the sea. Unloaded most of the bikes, put our sheets and duvet covers on the bunks, then drove 10 minutes into St Just for dinner at the Wellington Inn. Good to see a few beers going down...and even a Crabbies Ginger ale - all rich in nutrients I'm sure! On the subject of nutrition, Andy our pacesetter and trainer was spotted eating a Big Mac at a service station today, despite his lecture on pasta and salad only...what's going on?! Early night for all...
To find out more or donate visit the Explore Bipolar website.