After 23 days and 1,200 miles we'd finally run out of land to cycle!
Our lungs could finally breathe easily and our legs could stop turning!
The JoGLE was at an end!
At breakfast I tried to tell myself it was just another day. Another 45 miles to both enjoy and endure! But it was hard to supress the feelings of anticipation of the finish which became stronger throughout the day as each mile ticked over on the odometer.
Having ridden over the wonderfully named Goon Gumpas early in the day we detoured from our original plan. Ben suggested that St Michael's Mount was a sight worth seeing so we plotted a route down to the coast to Marazion. We would then pick up NCR3 along the seashore to Penzance and on to Land's End.
It was indeed a very inspiring sight so, captivated by its presence, we eat our lunch on the sand and contemplated the last few miles of our journey.
I've known Ben since I was 13 when we went to school together. Because of that, despite us both nearing 35, the last five days seemed like we were schoolboys again, setting off each morning in search of new adventure. Ben was also with me at the end of the very first BST ride in 2005 and it felt right that he was here at my side once again for such a monumental journey. His positive nature and cheerful enthusiasm, not to mention his often wicked sense of humour, really kept both me (and Mirella) energised for the final 250 miles when tiredness was starting to show.
At dinner this evening Mirella had organised a chocolate cake for me with numbered candles that proudly flickered 1,200. As I blew out the candles so the lights went out on this year's Blood Sweat and Tyres ride.
These were the questions that vexed us as we rode by Killaworgie, just one of many bizarrely named Cornish villages!
Other than seven miles along the Camel Trail we endured 60 miles of constant hills...up and down, up and down. It was tough!
Crossing Bodmin Moor at the start of the day we passed the Jamaica Inn made famous by Daphne du Maurier. There was no sign of the mysterious Beast of Bodmin, but two dogs nearly took Ben's legs off as we passed a farm!
Our trail guide told us to look out for a garden containing some old military vehicles en route, but we weren't expecting an entire task force of 14 vehicles plus a submarine and spitfire! The 'Field Marshall' sat outside sipping his afternoon tea explained what everything was and some brief history of his marvellous collection!
We stopped just outside Truro to speak to an elderly gentleman who said he'd heard about us on BBC Radio Cornwall and as we approached the city the cathedral bells chimed out to announce our arrival...well that's what we told ourselves anyway!
Mirella battled with technology today. She left her mobile phone at the B&B and then TomTom stopped working, but she still managed to communicate and navigate her way through the day!
Tomorrow is the final day of the ride and it's hard to believe it is indeed the last.
Seven months of planning, preparation and training and 22 days riding have brought us to this point and we're all excited about reaching Land's End tomorrow evening.
A routine tyre change for a slow puncture after breakfast turned into a mechanical emergency when my rear brake pads plummeted to the floor due to a broken spring!
Maybe it was a blessing in disguise as one of the pads was completely worn away and would not have been much use for any of those steep descents that were becoming an increasing feature of our days.
Nonetheless, it was a challenge that needed overcoming.
For once we were near to a major town - Barnstaple - so we hoisted the bike onto the car and accelerated off to the local bike experts at The Bike Shed. Fully appreciative of my predicament and the immediacy of my need they dropped everything to fit me a new set of brakes straightaway so I'm indebted to them for getting me on my way again.
Two hours later than our normal starting time Ben and I were continuing along The Tarka Trail. Lovely riding, often under a woodland canopy pierced by sunlight, following the route of an old railway line meant we often passed platforms still proudly displaying their names even though the trains had long since ceased pulling in. However, at one or two the trains had never departed and offered a weary traveller a Devon cream tea on board the classic carriages.
No such indulgences for us though, as we were full steam ahead for Cornwall, crossing into the final county of our journey with the final few turns of our pedals for the day.
I thought I must be dreaming when I awoke as there was sunshine for the second successive morning! And it appeared that there was an uninvited guest in bed with Mirella and me! Newton, the B&B resident cat had snuck in through the open window and made himself comfortable!
Today's mission was to cross Exmoor, starting with a 2.5 mile ascent up to Dunkery Beacon at 1,705 feet. A hard rocky climb, but we managed to cycle most of it and the views from the top were spectacular and only spoiled by the droning tones of a German walking-tour guide!
A mile of excellent trail riding followed along the ridge before the bridleways returned to boggy cow fields and our speed plummeted to less than walking pace for the next two miles before we could eventually reach Mirella for lunch.
She rustled up an delicious camp feast of rice, quinoa, baked beans and beef stew with a jelly-bean dessert that gave us fresh energy for the afternoon, which, after some more long climbs and fast descents, culminated with a seaside ride along the Tarka Trail.
Ben and I turned our backs on Bristol and headed off into the fresh morning sunshine. Apart from three big climbs we were expecting an easier day, by JoGLE standards, as a large portion of it was over the sedate Somerset levels.
However, it didn't quite turn out that way.
Our progress before lunch was slow due to waterlogged bridleways that were more akin to World War One trenches and we were half expecting - hoping - that Baldrick might jump out with a 'cunning plan' for our escape!
We recharged with two lunches for a very hungry me and some faggots for Ben that had been recommended by an over-exuberant local!
After a big climb in the afternoon we enjoyed some absolutely superb riding over the Quantocks ridge followed by two cracking descents to the seaside - at one point reaching 35mph - finally finishing at around 19:30.
A long day so I followed my double lunch with a double dinner (as well as a starter and dessert of course)!
Some difficult navigation around Bristol cost me 10 extra miles which meant 65 miles for the day.
The morning started with more Welsh hills, but thankfully more forgiving than the previous days.
Just one hideously steep climb stood between me and England!
It was so steep that as I was pushing - yep, I have no shame - the blades on my shoes were slipping on the surface!
But once up I was treated to a short sweeping descent on the forest trails before meeting Mirella for our last lunch in Wales...with Elvis!!
The pub at which we stopped was owned by an Elvis impersonator and the walls were covered with music memorabilia.
I tried to explain to Mirella the comedy surrounding Welsh Elvis impersonators, but I'm not sure I was able to convey the humour!
Although I was excited about my second border crossing into England I was sad to be leaving Wales. The hills may have sapped my energy but my spirit felt recharged from the sheer beauty of the landscape.
The crossing of the Severn Bridge was a bit of an anticlimax as it turned out. Last year the whole BST group crossed the River Medway and it was a very surreal experience.
With the River Severn being much grander I guess I was expecting something similar.
And that's really where the day seemed to go downhill.
The afternoon section was easily the worst part of the route so far as I skirted round the edge of Bristol. At times it seemed like an inner city crime tour as I passed run-down housing estates and the mandatory burnt out car, although the unwanted sofa on the cycle path was a new experience!
There was no way I was stopping for a sit down in those surroundings though so I pedalled that bit faster to reach my destination!
Raj and Michael were on the train home after what they likened to being 'terminated'!
Programmed only to pedal, eat, drink and sleep, apparently I am no longer human - I am a machine!
Last night Mirella said I was even pedalling while asleep!
I'd really enjoyed their company and was sorry to see them go. They'd biked long and hard and really earned their donations.
I spent all morning wondering whether there were any flat bits in Wales.
Not where I was anyway.
You either go up, or you go down. Never 'along'!
I felt really tired by the time I met Mirella for lunch in Hay-on-Wye where we sat on the wall enjoying fish and chips with lots of salt & vinegar!
Naturally, I washed it down with an ice-cream before setting off to conquer The Black Mountains.
After all the climbs of yesterday evening and this morning the 6-mile climb up to 1,800 feet was really testing both my physical and mental reserves and it was feeling like the toughest part of JoGLE.
But it was worth it when I reached the top. The panoramic view stretched further than any I can remember. It was bleak and gloomy where I was, but the sun lit up the valley below and the hills in the distance like a painting being displayed in a gallery.
It seemed like it was just hanging there for me to admire.
So I did, on more than one occasion.
The flipside of the 6-mile climb was a 10-mile descent to the B&B.
An extremely narrow singletrack with lots of blind corners and rainfall gushing onto the road creating mini-fjords meant it wasn't a simple cruise, but it sure was a welcome relief from struggling up!
And I finally found a benefit to all this rain...I washed my bike down with a hose from a natural spring!
As my friend Timmy would say, it was 'utterly brilliant' to be back on the bike again.
Admittedly it was only for 16 miles easy riding along the High Peak and Tissington Trail, but it was just what I needed to kick-start my JoGLE again after my food poisioning in Appleby at the end of Day 10.
I rode non-stop except to take a picture of this unusual mountain biking companion I encountered at a gate!
Raj and Michael arrive tomorrow morning to start their three days. I haven't seen them since last year's event so am looking forward to riding with them again.
No riders were scheduled to be riding with me on Day 13 which is just as well seeing as I am still in recovery mode.
I had my first proper meal in two days last night and managed beakfast and lunch today so that's three meals out of the six I reckon I need to balance out what I threw up and subsequently missed.
Mirella and I transferred straight to The Waggon & Horses at Langsett, which is a beautiful spot right on the reservoir, to have lunch before checking in so I could get some rest in the afternoon.
As we were collecting our bags from the car in order to check-in we met four lovely ladies accompanied by their distinguished chaperone.
They were all admiring my bike, which was up on top of the car, wondering how many gears it had, what kind of person would own such a bike and what kind of adventures he/she would have on it.
When I told them about my journey they asked why I was not in Beijing!
The ladies were from four separate villages around Langsett and have been lunching here since they came with their parents many years ago. We chatted for at least 15 minutes about the JoGLE, the local area, them growing up and they even offered Mirella some route suggestions due to some road closures as a result of last year's horrendous floods.
Their chaperone turned out to be husband and brother to two of the ladies and although in his 70s is still actively cricket umpiring so we briefly discussed the War of the Roses cricket match (Lancashire v Yorkshire) that was finishing today at Old Trafford.
They were all so full of life and good cheer that I think they would have joined the ride if they could!
So I shouldn't really have been surprised when they all opened their purses to donate towards BST!
Their enthusiasm for the cause and their spontaneous generosity was a far better tonic than anything I could find at the chemist.
Another fantastic effort from Chris as he cycled the whole day alone while I hugged my bottle of Lucozade.
As a BST first-timer with no connection to Haemophilia Chris' commitment to his five days, especially considering he had to ride two days by himself, largely in the rain, deserves an enormous amount of praise.
By comparison to the previous days and with no wildlife with which to converse the sedate Leeds-Liverpool canal on this morning's section had him reaching for his iPod - listening to The Beach by All Saints he was clearly dreaming he was somewhere else and in very different company!
The afternoon section full of steep climbs was another matter and eked out every last drop of sweat as the picture shows!
Tonight we're in the very old market town of Hedben Bridge in the Pennines, which is bursting full of character. Having arrived by car and earlier than I would have done by bike I've at least been able to take in a bit more of where we're staying for once.
There's no way I will be well enough to ride Day 13 tomorrow, but I'm hoping to be back on the bike after lunch on Day 14 in order that I'm ready for the final onslaught with the bulk of the fundraisers.
Last night at dinner, quite suddenly, I started to feel distinctly unwell.
I couldn't sleep all night due to severe nausea and it was still with me when my alarm went off, but I managed to force some breakfast down me and head off into the rain with Chris, despite Mirella's protestations that I should not.
I only made it 8 miles to the nearest village at Soulby where I was forced to retire for the day as the nausea was too overwhelming and I was listless in the saddle, lagging behind Chris.
Handing over the map and GPS to Chris he continued alone completing the day in great time.
While waiting for Mirella to come to pick me up a nice elderly couple offered me a much needed hot cup of tea to keep me warm as I sheltered from the rain in the church doorway.
Mirella was just in time to witness last night's dinner and this morning's breakfast erupt onto the street in front of the church!
The ferocity of my stomach's rejection of its contents forced me to my knees and with the context of it being outside the church, to any onlooker it must have looked like evil spirits were being exorcised!
Hopefully I can hold down some food soon and begin to recover for the days ahead. Day 12 is certainly out of the question for me.
Last night we crossed back across the border to Gretna Green for dinner at a hotel...needless to say there was a wedding reception taking place, our second of the JoGLE!
Our morning session in the pouring rain was spent making our way over to the North Pennines where we would cross to Appleby via The Maiden's Way.
It teased us with a decent track for the first mile or so while we dodged bullets from the grouse hunters but then, as per usual, it turned into a barely discernable path, boggy and rocky.
We climbed all the way to over 2,200 feet at which point a rain cloud descended on us and reduced visibility to around 50 yards.
Being unable to navigate by the cairns (stacks of stones that act as waymarkers) and it being ridiculously dark for only 15:30 Chris started reminiscing about the time he got lost with his uncle up on Aonach Eagach Ridge in Glencoe, which, he said, bore remarkable similarities to our current situation!!
But at least I could take some solace in that I knew he got out of that one ok!
For all but the first 3 miles of the morning the worst weather of the JoGLE so far forced us on to the road.
The heavy rain was being driven into our faces by a headwind that was so strong that we even needed to pedal downhill!
35 miles and soaking wet we arrived to meet Mirella for lunch in Langholm.
After lunch the rain abated and we returned to off road.
Well, we tried to!
At the top of our very first climb there was a sign from Scottish Water saying that the path was closed due to essential mains water work!
The sign looked a tad old and we couldn't see any works going on, so I called the phone number on the sign and quoted the reference number it said to, but it meant nothing to the chap at their office!!
He said we should be ok to proceed...which we were for about one mile until the path had been totally destroyed / dug up and was in fact still being dug up!!
So we dug deep ourselves and trudged through the quagmire for about another half mile to the end.
Somewhere across the next field I think we crossed the border into England...when you're off-road there's no sign to announce it!
But just the thought that we had was a real boost for me and I have to confess to feeling slightly euphoric at having made the 9 days and 450 miles so far.
Chris flew up last night to join us for Days 08-12 so there was a symbolic handover this morning between him and Phil who flew back today.
It was going to be really strange not having Phil with me anymore. We'd enjoyed some terrific riding and battled through some tough days together to get this far.
But at the same time it was going to be good to have some fresh legs to inject some new pace!
Chris and I knew from the outset that it was going to be a long hard day of 64 miles so anything unexpected was likely to severely impact our day's schedule.
We successfully negotiated the first 32 miles without any real trouble, although perhaps should have heeded the warnings that were staring us in the face.
All the recent rain was starting to take effect...and two of our paths in one section had turned into flowing streams! Not deep enough to prevent us riding through and the way the JoGLE has been so far we've just had to get through whatever was put in front of us so we forged ahead without giving it much thought.
I had also disregarded the small matter of Croy town centre being totally flooded last night when I'd driven to pick up Chris from the station.
So all this rain eventually caught up with us, so to speak, about 3 miles after lunch when the small stream we were due to cross on the map turned out to be rather larger than expected!
About waist high we reckoned and with quite a current!
We know this because we tried to see how far we could get...!
But the road we needed to cross was just above the other side about 50m up the hill so if we could just get across it we could be on our way.
Undeterred at this stage, we backtracked up the hill from whence we came and looked at a detour. Nothing really viable that wouldn't involve a big detour, but from that higher vantage point we could see what looked like a bridge of some sort further along so we cycled down through the fields as the grazing lambs scattered.
Not a bridge in fact, but a timber pole with a wooden fence attached to it...we presume normally the fence would be suspended to stop the sheep from moving from field to field via the little stream. However, because of all the rainwater the fence was now horizontal held up by the flowing water!
That was enough for us! So we carefully stood on the pole, placed the bikes on the fence and shimmied across!
After I sank waist high into a hidden tributary and Chris pulled me out, we carried our bikes up the short steep bank, over the fence and onto the road.
But we had lost a huge amount of time and our arrival time was gettting later and later at a place where they closed the kitchen for food at 20:00 and it was so remote there were no other options.
We still had about 26 miles to go with two big climbs.
We decided to put an emergency call out to Mirella to come and pick us up from a town 4 miles away in the wrong direction (it was the nearest place on the map that she would be able to find with the TomTom) and we could look at a quick transit along the boring road section to get us back on track. It wasn't ideal by any means, but it would mean that we would still be able to 'complete' the day i.e. finish by bike.
It's not like we hadn't put the miles in, having already done 42.
Mirella of course was already way ahead waiting for us so had to drive back and that took her 30 minutes, during which time Chris and I were considering from where to restart. Assessing the route we discovered we would be crossing a particulary wet tributary ridden area (we were heading for a loch and reservoir after all) where we would be completely cut off from any road or outside assistance.
By the time Mirella had arrived, Chris and I had already both come to the unfortunate conclusion that the best course of action would be to transfer by car to the hotel, but it meant that this would be the first day I had not successfully travelled 100% from A to B on my bike. Disappointment doesn't really cover it and as the car journey itself was 40 miles and took 1 hour so I had plenty of time to mull on it.
But tomorrow is another day and another 50-60 miles to do, so back on the bike and onwards towards England!
Pouring rain, I mean heavy rain, for all but about one hour of today's ride.
Does the sun ever put his hat on for more than one day in Scotland?!
A 55-miler turned into a 66-miler due to my first navigation issues. The track just ended in the middle of nothingness so I had to backtrack and hack it half a mile over some moorland with shoulder-high plants around me to the nearest road!
Other than that the ride was pretty uneventful apart from a couple of miles in the middle of the ride of complete bog! No visible path and my feet sinking into water and mud up over my ankle.
Thank goodness for my SealSkinz waterproof socks keeping my feet dry and warm.
And I'd also wisely opted for my full length waterproof trousers when I had a change of clothes at lunchtime.
I arrived at the hotel at about 19:30 again, but was surrounded by people arriving for a wedding reception. I think they thought the stripper had arrived early as a peeled off my soaking wet and muddy clothes and marched straight past the bride in just my undershorts and techfit top!!!!
So, that's 7 days completed and 350 miles on the clock.
Overall I feel in pretty good shape. Obviously some fatigue in the legs, but still gas in the tank.
Refuelling has been key and to that end the Pulsin and Science in Sport products have been fantastic.
As have the natural supplement recommendations from Simon Boyd at Ceres in Worthing.
Mushroom tablets from Russia would you believe!
In other news:
Mirella visited Rob Roy's grave after checking out...not that she knows anything about him...but why would she being a Brasilian living in Switzerland?!
The day began with Mirella being locked outside the hotel for 10 minutes before breakfast in the company of those pesky midges!
She was one angry Latino when she finally made it inside I can tell you!
Bright sunshine greeted us as we set off for a hard day which began with a 5.5 mile climb up to The Devil's Staircase to about 1,500 feet. The first 2.5 miles were slow and steady on a gravel track, but from then on for the next 3 miles we were back to pushing and carrying the bikes...you can imagine we were getting pretty fed up with all this by now!
But we battled on and met some interesting people along the way, all of whom looked at us as if we were completely insane!
There was one lady in particular who had emigrated to British Columbia in Canada 42 years ago and now, aged 65, she was off walking the Highlands and touring Europe!
She said, quite dismissively, that these trails were easy compared to those in Canada...just what Phil and I wanted to hear after dragging ourselves and our bikes to the summit!!
She did mean for walking though!
By lunch we had travelled a mere 10 miles...shocking...by the end of the day I would have done 58 miles...so that meant 48 miles after lunch from 13:00!
I finally finished a very long and arduous day at about 19:30 so I treated myself to two desserts at dinner!!
After the rigours of yesterday we were mercifully blessed with dry conditions and 32 miles easy riding along the Great Glen Way to Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis. Mirella expressed her affection for me, but clearly 'eau de Jogle' would not be a big hit with the ladies!
My clothes are having a well overdue wash this evening!
The final 18 miles up and along the West Higland Way to Kinlochleven proved somewhat challenging...lots of unrideable sections meant getting off and pushing and on occasion we literally had to carry our bikes.
Phil arrived at breakfast with a fresh enthusiasm this morning having sold his sofa on eBay last night! Ironically the buyer was a MTBer who was off to Switzerland for some Alpine action!
Mirella continues to be most unhappy with just the one hour of attention she receives from me each night (make of that what you will!).
And I was hoping that the midges continued to prefer Chinese takeaway (Phil) to a full-English (me)!
As it turned out we had easily our best day of riding today, doing 40 miles before lunch, the finest of which was through a magnificent glen.
During the morning the RAF even honoured us with a Tornado fly-past!
The lack of contact with humankind was obviously starting to take its toll on us as, when we happened across a surveyor who was digitally mapping the terrain, we stopped and asked him the way to Land's End!!!
At lunch we got chatting to a lovely Scottish lady called Alison who had taken an interest in our escapades and she very generously donated some money towards our fundraising!
That sure dispelled the myth about the tight Scots!!
The only blot on a truly magnificent day was me losing my mobile phone by forgetting to zip up my saddle-bag after raiding it for food!
Mum is busy sorting out a replacement to be sent up somewhere en-route!
As I write this we are all sat in the car in the corner of the car park at our hotel, with Mirella's phone on the roof of the car in order to get a signal!
Thanks for all your messages of support and the donations which we eagerly check each evening at the hotel so please keep then coming!
22 miles of endless fire-trail into complete Scottish wilderness provided an amazing start to the day.
After that we had a mere 10 miles to reach our refreshment stop to meet Mirella at The Crask Inn...but what a 10 miles!
A narrow stony path alongside the loch was just a warm-up for what lay ahead.
We knew we were faced with a climb up to 1,200 feet and had been warned that we would likely have to carry/push our bikes up.
It was a very long arduous climb. Hard enough walking with the uneven rocky terrain, but pushing the bikes up was even more challenging.
And we couldn't stop for more than a few seconds for a breather lest the midges attack en masse!
We just had to keep moving!
Now, normally, once you get to the top of these big climbs you are at least rewarded by a cracking descent.
The path deteriorated and at times completely disappeared so we relied on GPS to keep us on course.
Crossing mountain streams sourced from cascading waterfalls broke our stride at regular intervals until we eventually found ourselves back on a discernable path with the white building of The Crask Inn within site.
Just two miles of boggy narrow path stood in our way, but we were finally back on our bikes!
There were also regular crossings of streams, some with plank bridges, some nothing at all and Phil took a dive over his handlebars when his wheel disappeared in a deceptively deep trough!
Thankfully the boggy terrain provided a soft, albeit wet, landing and we powered on to the end where Mirella was waiting to welcome us with a nice hot tea!
20 minutes later and we were back on our bikes for the final 18 miles, descending into Lairg re-energised by the stunning landscape and the warm glow of the golden sun.
What should have been an uninspiring morning on tarmac turned out to be very dramatic with a complete showstopper moment!
Cruising along a minor road Phil's spd (pedal) completely detached itself and he crashed into the road along with his bike.
After establishing that he had escaped with the customary cuts and bruises it then dawned on us that we had a much bigger problem:
WHERE WAS PHIL'S SPD?!!
Without that Phil faced the prospect of having to withdraw from the Jogle after only 45 minutes until he could find a bike shop and buy a replacement!
The search was on!!
And to make matters even worse both sides of the road were effectively the start of the fields that flanked the road!
By sheer stroke of luck we located it within a few minutes and were soon on our way again.
We finally reached proper off-road at the 30-mile mark and soon all our expectations of the Scottish landscape unravelled before our eyes.
Wide open vistas and a real sense of beauty and remoteness.
Although it had been raining when we set off first thing in the morning, the majority of the day had provided good MTB conditions...cool, dry with just a slight breeze...but with 8 miles to go, the heavens opened with something akin to a tropical downpour! Thankfully it didn't last long and we were able to complete the last few miles in relative comfort.
However, that comfort was soon shattered by swarms and swarms of midges that have, since then, held us hostage in the hotel!!
So we've been making the most of the excellent hospitality extended to us by John, our host and proprietor of The Forsinard Hotel.
He's been telling us all about stalking! Nothing to do with celebrity obsession...this kind of stalking is hunting and shooting deer!
Let's hope we don't encounter anyone stalking the lesser-spotted MTBer on tomorrow's route!!
Thankfully we had a trouble-free journey, arriving at John o'Groats at about 14:00 after a detour to check out Thurso (which didn't take long!).
However, despite sharing the 15.5 hours driving between the three of us no one was able to get any real sleep so we are all pretty tired. But at least we have plenty of time to get things sorted before having an early night.
My advice to any riders...get the support driver to drive car, bags and bikes up there...and catch a plane up to meet them!!