What an incredible journey this was, from the short climbs, on a very wet start in Cornwall, to the emotional finish through Scotland's deserted windy highlands. With storm Alex arriving on day 3 (obviously blowing in from the North!), days of constant rain and emotional meltdowns to rival any DA trip! Ongoing logistical challenges in the form of another lockdown chasing our tail - just to add to the excitement!
I have worked on this trip many times, which was part of my inspiration for doing it. I have been lucky enough to cycle in some amazing countries, but there is something about cycling the length of your own! I have now cycled the width of Britain and its length and it is some of the best cycling and certainly some of the most arduous.
The idea that we might do it ourselves started to form after the first lockdown when I had this idea of cycling from North to South Wales. I had kept in touch with my DA friends, as we were all in the same position: Without work! I struggled massively with lockdown, as there had been some dramatic changes in my life the previous year already. It was a shock as trips started to be cancelled one by one, and I realised that Discover Adventure had become my life.
I see the lockdown as the biggest challenge of my life so far, perhaps because of my personal circumstances as well. But I have never really been able to sit still and do nothing! So when I was asked to stay at home, it wasn't easy - and I know I'm not alone in thinking this.
I was moving house in the first lockdown, and as it turned out on the last day you could move before complete lockdown. It was a stressful day. But, this was going to be my new start! I had a month to move in and get settled before a busy year on the road with Discover Adventure, or so I thought. My sisters helped me move and stayed with me that first night. The next day I was totally overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation I found myself in. I knew no one, really, and the pandemic was in full control.
My first mission was to get a job; What followed was 4 months at Morrisons, and a realisation of how lucky I am to have found Discover Adventure! With DA I feel like I have found myself. And this brings me to the main event: 2 Discover Adventure Leaders, a DA doc and her mate decide to cycle across Britain.
Post-lockdown, I met Fi and Helen in the Brecon's for cycling and walking weekend. We should have seen this as an omen as we mainly walked, rather than cycled, due to the bad weather! Fi and I started to discuss Lands End to John O'Groats. A plan formed, and Helen was super keen to join us. The date was set for September.
Looking at the weather at the beginning of the week we decided to start early because the forecast was really bad. We got to Land's End and started cycling to the first night's accommodation: 35 miles. This would leave us only 50 miles to do in the rain the next day. I awoke that second morning to the sound of rain on the shepherd's hut we were staying in... It was hammering down! Happy 50th birthday, Christina!
We set out with all our waterproofs on fully expecting a day of cycling in the rain. The first hour was as expected, but as we approached halfway and a pub lunch spot, the sun began to shine. The day got better as we went along, and we approached our lovely accommodation for the night, complete with a large dog the size of me! I was feeling optimistic about the journey ahead. My lovely friends provided a meal and birthday cake, balloons, banners and of course, beer! I had a lovely birthday though nothing about my life was what I had expected. In fact, it could not have been further from anything that I'd imagined. I am sure a few people can say the same!!
I could describe each day, but it's not necessarily the cycling that makes the journey; it's the people you take the journey with and those you meet along the way!
We started the ride in a period that was not locked down in England. Still, Wales and Scotland were heading that way, so along with the usual challenge of cycling 1080 miles, we also had the problem of accommodation cancelling along the way.
People have asked me why I was doing this. It is totally beyond any comprehension to many people. I was totally shocked when even my parents asked me why I didn't just come home after I rang them on the 3rd day and it was raining AGAIN. For me, there was no question. I had decided to make the trip for charity. In this country, we are lucky enough to have furlough (Well, most of us but that is another story!) I am sure they have not even heard of furlough in Nepal and Tanzania, and I have no doubt they are struggling without tourism to provide their work.
I suppose I realised that circumstances might stop us, but I am stubborn and determined, so unless it was down to injury, I was going all the way!
The 3rd day we headed from Tremail to Tiverton, and this is where the "fun" began...
What started out as an unsupported ride soon turned into a ride that had a little help from a lot of friends. 2 miles into what was to be a rare dry, sunny day with a tailwind, Helen's hanger snapped. This is where you realise the problems of an unsupported ride in a lockdown and the kindness of strangers, friends and family. After a bit of trying to find a bike shop, trying to get a lift from the lovely man at the accommodation, who offered not only a lift but his wife's bike. Unfortunately, she was 5'2, so this was not going to work for Helen! Helen finally got a taxi to a local bike shop, where we cycled to meet her. Unable to get the correct part and get the bike fixed, Helen's daughter came on a mission of a 3-hour drive with her bike! We were all back on the road and pushed on to our night accommodation, and Helen was on bike no.2 by day 3.
The journey to Flax Burton, where Doc Helen's other Doc friend Mia, lived was horrendous and was possibly one of the worst days cycling of my life! Rain, headwind and hills. I usually like hills, but it just all got a bit too much, and the last few miles to Mia's house were horrendous, resulting in me swearing into the wind. This was storm Alex, and unfortunately, storm Alex was mainly from the North. By the time we arrived, it was 7.30 pm. We had been cycling in the rain most of the day, it was dark on a busy road toward Bristol, and I was close to breaking point. There had been tears and tantrums. And this is where the difference became apparent, from being a leader to cycling with your peers. Typically, no emotion is shown whatsoever about your own struggles. If it's hard, then you have to put a brave face on and continue because you're the one to get the participants through these lows, but I was with friends so I let go!!
The hospitality waiting for us at Mia's house was amazing. Hot towels, hot drinks, hot showers and lots of food. There is nothing like harsh elements to make you appreciate luxury or even change what your view of luxury is! For example, the harsh elements on Kilimanjaro to the hotel at the end and the warm showers.
One of the most notable days was the cycle into Edinburgh. 1.) because it was dry for once and 2.) because it was dry (alcohol-free) and closed. It was eerie cycling the quiet streets, past landmarks with no one around.
The plan was to find a bar, but nothing was open or serving alcohol, so it was a hot chocolate again! Hot chocolate at midday became the highlight of the trip for us all. It's amazing how a hot drink can taste so good when you are so cold, wet and tired. We even started to rate them out 10 - life became that simple! Get up, eat, ride your bike, find somewhere to eat more food and the best hot choc, find accommodation, shower, dry clothes and eat... again. The accommodation became harder to find as we travelled up the country, especially with lockdown in Scotland.
I would highly recommend this trip.
Would I do it again? Probably not! But mainly because there is so much in the world I want to see and do, that I don't want to repeat my rides. I will, however, be working on LEJOG this year. And will take any opportunity to get on my bike, as always.
If there is one thing I hear from people a lot, it's the phrase "I am too old!" I turned 50 on this trip, not old at all. And the 2 Doc's I cycled with were 5 years older, and let me tell you, a lot bloody faster than me. It's about training and mindset.
Now is the time to do all things we have ever dreamed of. Once the restrictions are lifted, get out there and live! Make the most of the time we have on this planet. Like most people, I am sick of Netflix and sitting in. I want to be free again! And return to all those adventures I have been lucky enough to have.
Christina raised £2,280 for the local crew, porters and guides in Tanzania and Nepal.
If Christina has inspired you to take on this beast of a challenge, you can join her and a group of likeminded cyclists on our Land's End to John O'Groats cycle this year. For more information, click the button below.
We also have Fi and Helen's perspectives too, let us know in the comments if you'd like to hear more about their incredible challenge in the comments!