The longest route in the UK is 874 miles from one end to the other. Thousands of people have completed this route in a variety of different ways. From the stock standard, walk, run or cycle, to horses, kayaks, unicycles, skateboards and wheelchairs…one guy even did it by playing golf the whole way down. (Basically he hit a ball and followed it the entire route). The journey is between John O’Groats, Scotland and Lands End, England. It’s essentially called End-to-End, and can either be done as JOGLE (John O’Groats to Lands End) or LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats). It is seen as one of the pinnacle challenges in the UK, which is why I believe my friend, Rebecca Russell (Russ) had a great desire to complete it. I, on the other hand, had never heard of it. Yet the thought of biking for hours a day and for days on end definitely appealed to me more so than it would to your average person, so I thought… Why not tag along?”
We chose to do JOGLE i.e. from top to bottom, because in our mind, going down the country would be easier, after all, it’s all downhill right? We didn’t really do much research more than our own reasoning, and it wasn’t actually until we started that everyone began telling us how much easier it is to do it the other way around; which we found to be extremely true. There’s this thing called prevailing winds, which in the UK is from the south-west, meaning riding down the country would result into biking into these winds the entire way. Minor details.
Our journey took place in August, over the span of two weeks. Our plan was to cycle between 60-100 miles a day, amounting to roughly 8-10 hours on the bike every day for a fortnight. At night we planned on staying in B&B’s, hostels, and with friends and family along the way. We had a vague route planned out, and a rough timeline, the one thing we knew for sure was that we needed to make it to the bottom in roughly 2 weeks. There are many cycle paths in the UK which make cycling fairly easy and enjoyable. However there are also many one lane roads with no cycle paths and motorists with no regard for cyclist safety, or anyone’s safety for that matter.
We officially started our bike journey on Saturday, 6th August at 2pm from John O’Groats. While it was beautiful, there really wasn’t much there. Many fields, a small village consisting of a gift shop, café and post office and that was about it. But the main attraction was the sign. A white signpost stood next to the cliff that gave way to the brutal Scottish coastline. The sign post had various signs pointing to different locations around the globe and the distance it was from that spot. The main one was the Lands End sign, 874 miles from John O’Groats. Of course that was in a direct straight line, our journey would take us closer to the 1000 mile mark.
It was a pretty unceremonious start really, just hopped on our bikes, rode around the sign and headed off up the road. We rode past a bunch of tourists taking pics, and locals wandering along to a games fair that was happening in one of the paddocks, and that was it. But then we were off and on the road, making our way through Scotland. The Scottish coastline can be described as ruggedly beautiful; there is nothing inviting about it, but it does make you look in awe. There is no softness, no gentle curves and you can tell that the environment survives some harsh conditions, yet it has a way of capturing your breath and making you see the beauty in the rough. That beauty was our accompanying scenery, encouraging, yet challenging us, a paradox of nature.
Someone once asked me why people do endurance events like this, because surely they must get boring right? And yes, they do. They honestly suck and you spend the majority of your day miserable and wondering why you decided to do this. But then there are moments when you look around and see an amazing view, meet a random local, have a hot drink in a quaint coffee shop you would otherwise have never discovered or get helped by a stranger. It’s not until you slow life down, that you appreciate the small things more. And then, all of a sudden the day is over, and you look back on where you were and where you are now, and it makes you feel good about what you have done.
We had the pleasure of experiencing many quaint coffee shops, and random pubs – although I regrettably could not name many of them for you. The one pub that stands out however, is The Crask Inn. The most isolated pub in the UK. This was by far our favourite pint of the trip. We discovered it after having just been rescued off the valley by a bike tour guide. We had met this guide in a hotel pub, about 10 miles previous, where we had been served by the owner in his pajamas. The bike tour guide was the tail runner for a group also doing JOGLE, and due to the 60mph winds that day they had deemed the valley too dangerous to cycle through. After he had collected all of his cyclists off the valley, he remembered us two and drove back to find us as well. Random act of kindness by a stranger, restoring our faith in mankind.
But, as a whole, when it comes to these endurance events, it isn’t the actual physical activity that is the enjoyable part, it’s the completing of it. Like anything in life, we’re always striving for something, a goal, an achievement. There needs to be an end point or recognition and no matter how hard it is to get to it, we endure the sufferings for that sense of accomplishment. But, in the minds of humans, if the process isn’t hard, then it’s not a worthwhile achievement. So the harder it is, the bigger the sense of pride for the accomplishment. Hence why we put ourselves through physical hell.
Nowadays more than before it is extremely hard to be physically active. The majority of jobs are sedimentary, public transport is made more convenient and accessible than walking or biking, everything can be ordered online and food is all pre-made and bulk ordered so that even cooking a meal doesn’t involve much physical exertion. Not only that, but life is now fast-paced and stressful, and there is more pressure from society to be successful, so being healthy takes a back seat…or should I say being healthy through natural measures, after all, health can come in a pill bottle these days. Endurance events, and not just multiple day ones, but events such as marathons, or triathlons as well, give people an excuse to work out and live a fit and active life. It gives something to train for, a reason of recognition that will motivate them when general health and quality of life will not.
On the bike, during our trip, there were many times when Russ questioned why we were doing this. And why we even started to begin with. Because once you start, you can’t stop, that’s another pressure from society, the pressure to not quit. No one wants to be labelled a drop out. However, why have such a negative view on it? One of the biggest lessons to learn is how to recognize when it is best to endure, or when it’s time to stop. There’s a difference between quitting and knowing when to say when.
Starting something is already an achievement and whatever you complete of your goal is again, an achievement. Yes, you may not meet you’re original goal target, but that’s not to say that what you did manage isn’t worthy. Part of the reason I say this, is because I did have to drop out of the bike ride due to an injury. After biking basically all the way through Scotland, my knee went on one of the last hills of the day and I could barely walk, let alone cycle. I completed the rest of the journey in a car, being Russ’s support crew and biking a few miles here and there wherever I could.
The other part of the reason I mention this is because setting goals is a great motivator and it is what every successful person does. However, the end result shouldn’t overshadow the process. Find a way to be proud of everything you do, striving towards a goal regardless of whether you successfully reach it, is still an accomplishment. Putting yourself out there and accepting challenges – while it may risk failure – also makes you more successful than anyone who is sitting on the couch doing nothing. You shouldn’t be scared to try something because you may not succeed. Try something to see how far you get and be proud of that.
Our journey dynamics changed slightly, and the excitement of what we were doing was fizzling fast, although from day one the journey was far from enjoyable. We had rain, thunderstorms, unseasonably strong winds and record low temperatures. By the second day we were behind schedule and before the first week was over I had to drop out. This was about when Russ was wanting to pull out as well, because it wasn’t fun like she had thought. But as I said before, you don’t start these sort of challenges expecting to have fun.
This journey had always been Russ’s challenge, a goal that she had always wanted to achieve. We reached that moment of indecision after all the trials of the first week, she had to figure out if she should call it or endure it. What she had achieved so far was remarkable, but would she be satisfied dropping out knowing that the only thing causing her to do that was her own mind? The human body is pretty remarkable and can handle a lot of stress, both physical and mental, but it’s normally the mind that quits first, as a protective mechanism. If the body was in charge it would run itself into the ground before it decided to stop, the brain is the reason, and it works at preserving the body, so therefore the mind convinces the body to stop before it breaks. After getting out of Scotland we still had close to 600 miles left to go, and the English countryside wasn’t as breathtakingly distracting as Scotland, so did she want to put herself through all of that just to know she had cycled from one point to another? Or could she even make it all that way?
The answer was yes.
We reached the end point the second Saturday after we started. As unceremoniously as we began, we cycled up to Lands End, which was crowded with tourists taking photos and buying souvenirs. No one knew what we had been through the last couple weeks, no one knew the strength it took to get to this point, only we knew. That moment of getting to the second signpost was an inner celebration that only we could understand.
We both learned a lot from this trip. Russ learned that she can endure and break through the limits and the walls to achieve more than her mind conceived to be possible. I learned, that my body does actually need to rest! But also, that ‘proving yourself to the road’ also means to pay it forward. I have been lucky to complete multiple endurance events and have had help and support from others to do so. Each of these events has taught me something about myself, and now it’s time to start helping others be able to learn the lessons of the road for themselves and to learn about the strength of the human spirit.
We set goals and are achievement driven because sub-consciously we know that we can achieve anything. That it gives life a purpose. We want to be successful, because merely living isn’t challenging enough we always want to do more. The process may not be enjoyable, but it’s worth it in the end. Trust me, it’s better to have tried and failed a thousand times, than to never have tried at all. Take to the road, listen to what it has to teach.