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LANDS END – JOHN O’GROATS CYCLE

Location: UK

Year: 2016

The Nepal Earthquake in April 2015 killed almost 9,000 people. That combined with my friend and Everest Sherpa, Dorje Khatri, dying in an avalanche on Everest in 2014 has made me a supporter of the excellent charity, Community Action Nepal (CAN), which was founded by British climbing legend, Doug Scott.

After the earthquake, I wanted to raise funds for CAN and took on a challenge to facilitate that. At two weeks’ notice, Harry was the only man foolhardy enough to join me cycling over 1,000 miles from Lands End – John O’Groats with negligible training. A friend of ours who had done it before said, “Impossible. That route in that timeframe with no training is stupid. You can’t do it.” This was obviously a red rag to two bulls and we cracked on regardless.

After a night in an Air BnB, we set off from the coast in jovial spirits about the adventure ahead. Ably assisted by a favourable tailwind through Cornwall and Devon (deceptively hilly by the way), we made it to Okehampton after 112 miles and over 10,000 ft of ascent.

Lands End to John o' Groats
Lands End to John o' Groats

To caveat what might sound like a fairly illogical route, the aim was as much to complete the challenge in a given time as it was to explore the beautiful British countryside, avoid all main roads and have fun. Day Two, or the “Farmyard Classique” as we named it, was an illustration of this as we meandered our way through Devon and into Hampshire. Hedgerow lined single-track roads, tractors and stops for scones and cappuccinos (a theme throughout) were the order of the day. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

This 144 miles stint to stay with Mum was a long one, certainly a cycling PB for either of us, and we were gratefully met with good food, morale and replenishments before we started to move north. On days three, four and five we covered a combined 293 miles and made it to the new regimental home of the Light Dragoons in Catterick, North Yorkshire. From Yorkshire, we were welcomed to Scotland with vicious crosswinds, driving rain and a suitably undulating route – one way to describe a series of 15% inclined ascents – and made it to St Andrews a few days later.

Harry kindly allowed me to take this totally superfluous detour so I could spin some yarns about my University career and the intricacies of this unique place. St Andrews is extremely close to my heart, another reason why getting their banner to the top of Everest and becoming an Honorary Blue were such proud moments, so finding an excuse to go back is never difficult.

Lands End to John o' Groats
Lands End to John o' Groats

From there, we had a rather daunting day ahead which would total around 155 miles and another 10,000 ft of ascent – an arduous task given the previous weeks’ exertions. Keeping each other motivated and teamwork would, once again, be the things to get us through. Beyond Dundee and into the Cairngorms National Park we went. I spent a lot of my childhood in this region so was familiar with what was around the corner and it did not fail to disappoint. Stunning landscape, some fiendishly steep hills and variable weather conditions all came together to ensure that by the time we reached Inverness after over 10 hours of cycling we were both fairly spent on energy.

The final day was obviously a memorable one as the end goal was firmly in sight and as soon as we crossed over a few bridges we knew that we could just follow the roads along the coast and count down the mileage signs for John O’Groats. If we were hoping for dramatic landscapes to finish, then John O’Groats was a little disappointing. We were, however, warned about this so it did not come as a surprise. However, we did reach the famous signpost, sprayed some champagne at each other, had a few drinks to celebrate and then settled into our BnB in Thurso.

It was a wonderful journey from start to finish and I could not have found a better partner to join me. Harry is a cracking source of morale, adventurous spirit and kindness as well as having a superb level of fitness. These all make for an ideal expedition companion – it is no surprise we have combined forces a few times since.

It was an excellent way to see the country as well. As a result of the route we took and the distance we covered, over 1100 miles, it allowed us to explore some stunning scenery, good food and have the time to appreciate it.

For us, doing LEJOG in the shortest time over the shortest distance is such a waste but I’m sure others will disagree. It should be an opportunity to embrace the beautiful countryside we are lucky enough to have in the UK, and I would suggest to anyone thinking about doing LEJOG to follow our approach.