Cycling Across Britain-Day 24: Done after 1,100 miles
Miles: 38.2, Where I Slept: Hotel in Wick, NE Scotland
After 23 days of cycling & 1 day of rest, I cycled across Britain on “that bike.” It’s still hard to absorb. It doesn’t feel like a thousand mile cycle trip, just a routine that developed after some hills, sights, and after meeting a lot of good people. If you count only the miles that apply toward finishing, I cycled just under 1,100 miles. If you count all the miles, it was just over 1,100.
My last campsite in Thurso was windy, but I was cozy inside my tent. The high winds were actually helpful, since they dried my wet tent. One of the first things I did in the morning was call a hotel in Wick, a town nearby John O’Groat’s that had a train station. I reserved 2 nights at that hotel in Wick, very much looking forward to staying in one place for an entire day. One funny part is that the hotel was £75 a night, so those two nights cost more than every other night of my trip, combined. I had 4 nights for free, about as many for £5 a night at campsites, and the most I paid at a hostel was £22. I should have called more hotels and looked for a better price, but as usual, the morning went fast, and I needed to get cycling.
The headwind from the previous day continued. One guy at the campsite asked me, “I hope you’re not cycling east.” I told him that I was, since I came from Land’s End about a thousand miles ago. I added that wind, rain, hail, tornados, or hurricanes weren’t going to stop me—easy to say since Britain doesn’t get tornados or hurricanes. Although, Scotland can come up with some nasty storms.
Other than the wind, it was a smooth ride. The church in this picture shows how bell towers were farily simple, with just the bell. The sun was out; traffic was light; and I was fitter than I’ve ever been, not bad for 45. I also felt a kind of contentment that I haven’t felt before. I was finishing a challenging route, by myself, on folding bike, and carrying full camping gear. A while back, another cycle-camper and I estimated that about 20% of people on the end-to-end route cycle-camp. All the others travel as light as possible, have a support vehicle, and stay in hotels or B&Bs. I may try that someday, maybe.
I heard there was very little to see around John O’Groats, which was about right. It’s mostly farmland. There were a few hills, but I’d gotten better at climbing them or not being bothered if I had to push my bike. I didn’t have to push my bike in this short 20 mile trip.
It was a strange feeling when I saw signs for John O’Groat’s being 9 miles away or ¼ mile away. It was like graduating from high school, college, or some other goal that takes a while. You spend so much time and effort looking forward to it. The ending takes on a small but very personal, mythical quality. When you get there, the myth disappears. It’s still special but not a myth, in the “beyond reality” sense. It’s a dream you made happen. There’s a great scene in the movie Ap0llo 13 where Tom Hanks, playing Jim Lovell, sums this up. He’s talking to his wife and describes a much larger dream, of going to the moon. “This isn’t that special. We just chose to do it.”
I’ll never be the man Jim Lovell was, don’t need to be, but I like to apply some of his comments, kind of how I like to apply Churchill’s phrase to the troops in WWII, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” My more humble pithy quote comes from my early days of endurance sports. “I can still clearly remember running a mile was a big deal. Going further just slowly emerged.”
In John O’Groats, I found a couple of fun art stores. I almost bought a hand made sweater made from local Scottish wool, but I already have enough sweaters. I did buy a coffee mug that reminded me of Scotland, and an “End to End” whisky glass. I do like whisky, so I knew I would get some satisfaction from this glass. Of course, I also had to buy some local whisky. In this case, it was the oldest whisky I’ve ever bought, from the northern-most distillery in Britain. I also had one solvenier that I carried with me all the way from Land’s End. It should make for some satisfying cups of coffee for a few years.
When I was at John O’Groats, I also talked with some tourists traveling in the area. One actually called me a hero. That’s a bit much. Some other cyclists showed up, a husband and wife. As you’d expect, there’s an instant camaraderie among folks who just completed this journey. The husband instantly earned my respect when he told me that he had a puncture yesterday, on the day I was shivering in the cold wind and rain. I could feel his disappointment, when he felt the wobble of a flat. I had to respect the quick work he must have completed to patch it.
I’ve now cycle across Britain. I did some things well, and some things not so well, fine by me. One of the many not-so-well examples can be seen in the wrong turns I made, which show up in a post I’ll make in a little while. That post will show my entire route, based on the sat nav I used during the trip. Picture 6 of 14 shows 2 respectable wrong turns, like little thorns sticking out from the main path. But, in the end, I made it. Any mistakes were important. They gave lasting lessons of how to do better next time, and there will be a next time. I really like French cheese and German beer… If that doesn’t work out, there are so many American national parks I need to see, no better or cheaper way than on a bike.
Please pardon me if I’m a bit preachy, but If you’ve enjoyed any part of this blog, get on your bike or take a hike, for mile or more. A mile takes 20-30 minutes to walk. Sorry if I’m giving unrequested advice, but after cycling 1,100 miles, I’ll take the liberty. These financially tough times can bring us back to the simple pleasures that exist a couple miles from our door, or less. If the weather looks mediocre, remember something a Scotsman told me, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” Pack a lunch and a raincoat, you may not need them, and you’ll probably see people and places that exceed the small cost. If you don’t find something special, try again, maybe a couple times. You will. Minnesota, Britain, and other places have great trails. I’ve been on them. Ok, I’ll stop preaching now, thanks for reading.