Sunday, 18 September 2011

Day 10 Inverbrora, Highlands-John O’Groats, Caithness

Friday morning had arrived! The final chapter in what had been a long and tough 10 days.
I set off a little later than planned as we got talking to the other couple that had been staying that night. They lived in a houseboat in Burton on Trent and were travelling round Scotland whilst it was being repainted.
I left at 9.30 following the A9 north. The south westerly wind I had enjoyed yesterday had unfortunately disappeared and had been replaced with a steady drizzle but that wouldn’t dampen my spirits.
There are 2 infamous climbs on this last section of the end to end route, Helmsdale and Berridale. So far, I hadn’t had to get off and push once so I was going to make sure it didn’t happen today either. Helmsdale itself wasn’t too bad although there was a much longer hill out of Navidale that I found more tiring than the shorter sharp hill in Helmsdale itself. On the approach to Berridale, I was faced with a huge downhill from about 600ft down to 14ft above sea level. The opposite side of the valley consisted of a series of switchbacks that went on for around half a mile. Just as I thought I was at the top, another rise would appear. I did feel a bit better when I passed 2 other LEJOGers who were on fully geared road bikes with no luggage. I saw their support car on the previous day by Deephaven and I was to pass it again several times today aswell. I gave them a friendly hello as I went passed but I’m sure they weren’t very happy about being overtaken! Dunbeath threw another long hill at me, but after that the gradients calmed down a bit and I was left alone with the wild and desolate rain soaked landscape.
Wick was the final landmark of the journey, about 20 miles from John O’Groat’s. On entering the town, it was strange to see an Argos, Pets at Home and Tesco so far from civilisation (maybe not the latter), I could have been back home if I’d half closed my eyes.
Just after Wick, Mum and Dad passed me and gave me a wave. I knew I was on the final straight and was counting the miles down. I started thinking back over the journey I had made. Cornwall seemed so long ago, meeting Tim in gloriously flat Somerset, cycling 220 miles in a weekend with my uncle and aunty and being grateful that my fall didn’t meant the end of my ride or worse. Sometimes I see a map of the UK (especially when watching the weather forecast!) and think ‘how did I cycle all that way?’ On 1 hand it is, by any measure, quite a long way to cycle but the UK is also a wonderfully compact country. At the end of each day, the countryside, buildings and accents were different and I feel privileged to have been able to sample all of this in such an intimate way.
As I crested the last hill and rolled into John O’Groat’s, I thought about everything I had been through but also why I had done this and my 10 days of hard work does seem insignificant in comparison to the strength and courage my sister Jen and other cancer sufferers have to show week after, month after month, year after year.

Needless to say, it was raining as I entered the most northerly car park in the UK. I headed towards the iconic signpost where we took a few pictures before taking shelter in one of the cafes.
After a drink and half a rock bun, we left John O’Groat’s and headed south. After cycling constantly for 10 days, it felt strange being driven in the car and not having to put in physical effort to make progress! I liked it.
64.9 miles, 3 hours, 54 minutes, average 16.61 mph, 5426ft of ascent

Total: 886.1 miles, 56 hours 3 minutes, average 15.79 mph, 51,837ft of ascent

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