Friday, 12 June 2009

Day 12 - Newquay (almost) to Land's End - 46 miles. Total: 901 miles.

And there it was...done. 901 miles from the north-easterly point of the UK down to its south-westerly. After recovering from a 'few' glasses of wine and the end-of-challenge meal last night (well done to Banger Betley for sourcing a fantastic restaurant for us!), we began the journey in 24C and bright sunshine and (with a little poetic licence), we finished in much the same weather. That's not to say that all of today was in good weather, however. As we arrived at the layby on the A30 where we ended yesterday, the cloud descended and the wet with it. On went the weather-proof jackets and off we went for the final 46 miles. The route was quite easily the simplest of all - the A30 all the way to the end. So it was a case of simply head-down and get on with it.

By mile 17, the latest addition to our group, Bertie Kerr, was suffering. He had only been able to join us for the final three days due to work commitments and was not exactly 'bike fit'. That said, however, he soldiered on and despite his knees going yellow with swelling and bruising, would not give up. Well done to him.

As we proceeded along the A30 past Penzance, so the clouds began to soften and the warmth of the sun pushed through. With but 2 miles to go, all of the teams joined up for the final 10 minutes together and the ride in. We were welcomed by various wives, children, family and friends - a really pleasant culmination to a tough challenge. After the obligatory photographs (which will be published soon!), it was back to the support crew who lashed us up with a fantastic picnic spread, accompanied by a few bottles of bubbly.

Our thanks go out to everyone who has sponsored, cheered, tooted, waved, swerved, skidded, laughed, pointed at us through the last 12 days.

There will be photographs uploaded shortly but at the moment much of the team are spread across the country and out of phone signal or internet access.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Day 11 - Tiverton to Newquay (almost) - 85 miles. Total: 855 miles

The JOGLErs got off to a slightly later than usual start today due to the distance from our accommodation in Taunton (RM Norton Manor, home of 40 Cdo) to the start point (yesterday's end point) in Tiverton, some 25 miles away. We perhaps should have been thankfull of the extra rest given the steepest climb of the entire journey was right at the beginning - 15%!! Luckily, this monster climb dropped to about 10% after 500m and from there it was 'simply' another 1000m of climbing. But that wasn't it for the day, oh no. As predicted, this was to be the hardest day but not with the amount of climbing that we expected. With a total of 'only' 6,600 feet, it was eclipsed by the 8,950feet that we scaled a few days ago. However, today's headwind made it feel far harder.  Each summit was a false summit, each downhill just not down enough - the climbing went on and on. Fortunately for us, the weather prevailed today and while there were a few welcome respites due to sparse cloud cover, the sun blazened down throughout.

We stopped for lunch approximately 10 miles east of Bodmin, at the end of a fantastic downhill stretch. Of course, what goes down must go back up again and throughout lunch the glances were all UP, towards the next 800m. We were lucky enough to meet some very generous passers-by today who all donated to the charity - thank you, if you are reading this. After a bountiful lunch of spaghetti bolognese, jaffa cakes, crisps and lucozade, we were off again. The 800m uphill stint proved to be 8 entire miles of uphill, culminating at the Jamaica Inn Museums (Smuggling and the like!) on the crest of Bodmin Moor. On and on this hill went, taunting us at each turn. The break was entirely welcome even though it was a mere 8 miles from the lunch stop.

From here the course 'levelled out'. That is to say that the downhills equalled the uphills and the average height remained the same - it does not mean that the hills disappeared, oh no! Up and Down we continued for the final 27 miles, the only 'break' coming when the downhills did actually start to drop lower than the next hill raised. Technically, we were heading downhill towards Newquay but still the hills abused us. It was actually fortuitous that Mark Blenkinsop (we always get him in here somewhere, just to please his mum ;o) ) had a puncture 5 miles from the end. The final break meant that we could spend the final 20 minutes racing all the way to the end. It would have been beautiful had John not overshot the final turning and ended up in the village of Indian Queens, resulting in an about-turn and an extra mile!

Amongst the many lessons that we will all have learned about ourselves and others over the last 10 days, one will stick with this callsign for many years to come...I will be a much better driver. So many drivers out there seem to believe that if a cyclist is across the white-line and close to the kerb then they are somehow protected by a forcefield, entitling them to race by only inches from the cyclist. What they don't realise is that while this is bloody frightening in itself, the draft that they create (especially you, Devon & Cornwall Binmen!) can actually suck you from your path and in to the lane behind it.

And so we have but 47 miles to do in order to complete the Royal Marines End to End Challenge 2009. We arrive at Land's End at 1300hrs approximately and it would be great to see as many people there as possible. Until then, however, Newquay tonight!!

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Day 10 - Bristol to Tiverton - 66 miles. Total: 770 miles

9 Royal Marines, 2 Royal Navy and 1 CivPop, all controlled by Royal Marine Mountain Leaders....yet who was sent to watch as safety? The Fire Brigade!! 3 tenders, complete with crews, were sent to offer assistance to our drop down Durdham Down on the A4 in Bristol. No pressure to get it right then! (Before I continue, you'll have to forgive us that our photographer and nurse, Nic, has a confirmed case of chickenpox and so has been taken ill. Therefore, we have no access to her photos of the abseil today. We endeavour to get them soon though.) 4 of us (Scanny, Rob, Sharky and John) climbed through the frames of their bikes, locked them in place and scaled down the 200 feet granite rock face to the bottom. The rest of the team made it down in rather less obtrusive order and we all gathered at the bottom for photographer Gill Shaw (publishing a book on Help For Heroes events) and events company, Riot Events (who made some superb egg/sausage banjos!).

After the fun and games thanks to RMR Bristol (thanks to WO2 Dan Jones and Sgt Ian Rainkine), we were back on the road for a shorter than usual day. Down the A4, fight through Bristol and on to the A38....and on....and on....and on. It was only a 66 mile day to Tiverton but nonetheless was to prove pretty taxing and a taste of things to come with long drawn out hills. It didn't prove uneventful though with the physio, Mark, piling in to the tarmac ahead of a car with two nurses in! While this may seem like a brave stunt by Mark, rumour has it that it was " Big Red" Chris Hall who pushed him in a fit of unquenchable jealousy over who was the stronger.

The photo of Scanny that you can see below is actually a bit of an apology and a thank you rolled in to one. Last night, during a meal in an Indian restaurant, some of the team were a bit boisterous and Scanny had to go and apologise. With the beaming grin that only a mother could love, they gave him £20 for the cause! Thank you!

Tomorrow is back to a more usual distance at 85 miles but is nothing to celebrate just yet as it will also be the day with the biggest overall climbs - some 1900 feet! Will I, in fact, be awake enough to write this tomorrow? Of course! We have a night out in Newquay to look forward to!

p.s. The picture of a deer is from Scanny who found it wandering through our camp this morning!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Day 9 - Telford to Bristol - 108 Miles. Total: 704 Miles.

In...Out...In...Out (of Wales/England).

On the day with the highest total hill-climbs, the sun decided to make its longest reappearance since the beginning. Luckily for us, the route was one that was complimented beautifully by the good weather. We left Telford at around 0830 and very quickly got in to a great rhythm. The first water stop came and went very quickly and almost without incident. We stopped just north of Hereford for a lunch in a pub car park here the H4H tins came out . Sharky and Rob gave it all the best chat to coax cash from the unsuspecting public - we're now touching the £27,000 mark overall! While they put the effort in , the rest of the team bullied the wee kids from the playpark and took it over for themselves!

While the rest of the team thought that that total for day (108 miles) was enough of a challenge, Scanny decided that he required further PT and took a detour of 6 miles for him and his team! 'Technically' it wasn't his fault but let's face it, it comes down to leadership ;o) Having said that, while Jumper was putting in his best performance of the tour, John thought he was looking a bit fresh, just 200m from the end, and took him down the Avon Gorge just to really get the best out of him!

The afternoon water stop was taken at Tintern Abbey where yet more bus loads of tourists were only too happy to hand over their pensions to our cause. After the stop it was yet another very long climb to the top of the Wye Valley before heading downhill to the M48 Severn Bridge and back in to England...again.

We arrived in RMR Bristol in very good time to find an added extra to the team. Our trainer from Basrah, Elaine Pratt, was stood in front of us. Of course, it was clear that we weren't the only people on her priority list. Behind her, out walked Mark Betley with a beaming smile and red cheeks!

Tomorrow is all about yet another abseil. This time it's down the Durdham Down, 1.5 miles north of the Clifton suspension bridge. To add a bit of spice, 4 of us will be bouncing down with our bikes attached to us...oh, and it'll be pouring with rain too! We will be covered on Heart FM (National), BBC Bristol TV and BBC Bristol Radio!

It's up to all of you (if anyone reads this) to get out there now and help us out. We need a final sponsor to kick us over the £3,000!! Speaking of which, we would like to thank Christ Church Heaton, from Bolton. They managed to raise £1,000! Coupled to that, 9 year old James Hind was able to generate £600 for the cause! Park Manor Residential Home also contributed a rather large collective amount with £500, as did Julian Starkey, our Science Advisor from Basrah! Thank you all!!

So who can beat that?

Monday, 8 June 2009

Day 8 - Preston to Telford - 106 Miles. Total: 598 Miles

The sun made a welcome return this morning, doing its best to brighten up the boarded-up streets of Preston. Weaving in and out of burned-out cars, tyre-fires and nurseries with bars on the windows, we eventually made it out of the urban cityscape and in to the rural landscape once more. (note: there were no tyre-fires or burned out cars, it's really a lovely place, honest guv!). 

After a rather sedate and pleasurable run-in to Preston on Friday, we were expecting the same kind of pace today. This was not to be. Speedy Gon-Blenkinsop and Road Runner Sharky, Sonic The Taylor and Billy "Chris Hall" Whizz were intent on starting this as if it was day one of the JOGLE again. Up went the lap average, down went the shoulders and off we sped throughout. There had been rumour of rain coming in at around 4pm and after Thursday there was no way we were going to be caught in it again! 

We stopped in the small village of Flodsham, just south of Widnes, for some lovely pasties, pies and baguettes. The generosity of the villagers helped us swell further the kitty too! From there it was south (of course) towards Telford, skirting Shrewsbury on the way.
The weather held out just long enough for us to make it to our final RV and in to the RMP Barracks that we now find ourselves residing in.

Photos: Rob Thorpe doing pullups because he was bored with the route, 14-year old Scanny in the bath playing with his clothes, a lovely couple who met us at one of our water stops and invited us in for tea on their estate!

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Sunday, 7 June 2009

Day 6 - Blackpool Tower Abseil

No, scaling a 50 foot fire tower is NOT preparation for 385 feet of rusting tower, especially when your start point is 500 foot from the ground, it's raining and there's a 25knot wind!

With the rain continuing to persist, the team made its way to the base of the tower for 0830 after a quick stop in McDonald's for breakfast. The lads from RMR Mersey were already present, as were some of the press. The ropes were set and all that remained was for us to actually get to the top and begin. Rising up through the superstructure on the elevator was daunting enough! You realise just how old the tower is!

Arriving in the viewing platform, the kit was laid out for us, the Mountain Leaders were ready and we just had to simply step out and down the abseil........

"Just Lean Out" was the quote of the day from the MLs.....Just Lean Out over a 500 foot drop!
To a man, the job was completed. There were some wobbly moments and equally wobbly legs but each man made it down at least once, some were lucky enough for a second shot too!

It was a pity that the weather was as poor as it was although there was still a pretty good turnout below. While the total collection for the day has not yet been counted, it was a pretty large sum and we really must thank the Royal Marines Association and RMR Mersey for their help throughout today.

Next stop is Shrewsbury before heading down to Bristol for our next abseil challenge - Clifton Gorge, Wednesday 10th June at 0900! Let's hope the weather improves.

Day 5 - Carlisle to Preston - 89 Miles. Total 492 Miles

What Scotland gave us in sunshine, the entrance to England gave us in rainfall. We left Carlisle castle early in order to make good time and try to end the Friday slightly earlier. No such luck. As soon as the curtains were parted this morning we saw what was in store. The temperature had plummeted dramatically, the winds picked up and the rain constant.

After fighting through the morning Carlisle traffic, we were soon on the country roads once more although this time there was no scenery to be seen. The mist and low cloud, coupled with driving rain were making it nigh-on impossible to raise the head to see further than a few feet ahead. By the time we reached Penrith, 26 miles in, every man was drenched and bitterly cold. As we were making our way through the town, we spotted Rob Thorpe and Mark Blenkinsop in a cycle shop, buying new, dry clothing and gloves. Scanny had a similar idea and as we saw and outdoor shop, pulled over and dived in - it's quite amazing the price you'll be willing to pay for some dry clothes when you're desperate! No sooner had we got back on the bikes, however, did we spot the support crew at an impromptu stop! We had full access to all our dry clothing and fresh kit! Money Not Well Spent on new socks. As it was, we were slowly outrunning the worst of the weather and by the time we restarted onwards for Kendall the rain and subdued to a light drizzle.

From Penrith to Kendall we had the small matter of Shap Summit at 1400 feet! As we were making the slow ascent, cyclists were passing the other way with tales of doom and woe about how windy, dark and cold the summit was! By the time we eventually made it, the clouds were light and the wind had dropped. Spectacular views awaited us across the lake district and Kendall below us. Of course, the best thing about being on the highest point for miles around is that the only way is down! Reaching speeds of 46.5 mph (Scanny), we let rip and let the bike do the work, carrying us all the way in to the town below for lunch. It was here that we met Alex Krol and his friend Phil Ogley. Alex is a Marine from RMR Mersey who suffered a broken spine in a motorbike accident. He now makes his way around on a handbike and asked if he and Phil could accompany us for half a day. At this point, the rain had made an unwelcome return and so for some it was a chance to get in to the outdoor shops and kit out for the worst.

While the lead team sped ahead to our final destination of Weeton Barracks in Preston, the remainder of us kept with Alex and Phil at the slightly slower speed of 11-12 mph and made our way at a more sedate pace. Eventually, we found our finish but the day was not done...there was just the issue of the rehearsal for the impending Blackpool Tower abseil! So off to Blackpool Fire Station we went where we met up with Ian Rankin, our trusty Mountain Leader. He gave us a quick refresher of the kit before throwing us out of a 50 foot tower...hardly a representative rehearsal for what is to come!!

Big thanks to Alex and Phil for joining us today. Alex, you are a true inspiration. Phil, you're just a madman but well done for being such a good lad and friend to Alex.

Photos to follow when our photographer recovers from flu!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Day 4 - Irvine to Carlisle - 100 miles. TOTAL: 403 miles.

No sunshine today as we prepared to depart Scotland. As we stood in the Asda carpark in Irvine, the clouds already looked ominous and portentious; the temperature was certainly not in double-figures and the glares from the locals equally forboding.  The only thing keeping our spirits up was the prospect of a day of silence from Scanny. He had made a bet, while we were still in Iraq, that he could do a full cycling-day in silence. The money came flooding in against the bet and from numerous sources.

And so it was that we set off for the A71 only to find a 'Diversion' sign in place and an immediate 2 mile extension to our journey. Not to worry, the route was pretty straightforward - A71 then A76 (at least until lunch anyway). Usually we take a break at around the 25 mile mark and so were expecting that today. 25...26...27 miles came and went. At 30 miles a few phonecalls were made to the support crew who, it transpired, were still a few miles BEHIND! At the 36 mile point, refreshments were given before they sped off once more; a further 14 miles to the village of Thornhill for lunch.  We quickly learned why the support crew were late - they were buying a Disney Princess Birthday cake for Si Gair who is a grand old 37! Congratulations to him! It was also at this point that Mike Scanlon, our scrabble expert, failed in his bet. It was the nurse, Nic, who coaxed words out of him when he went to see her with something in his eye. With the simple question of, "there, does that feel better now?" he responded all too quickly before realising his mistake. Cue big grins from the rest of his team.

From Thornhill we deviated from the A76 and finally got back in to the countryside in the Scottish Borders; not on a par with the grandiose magnificence of the Highlands but pleasant enough after the dual carriage way. At this point, the clouds thickened. In fact, as the clouds mustered overhead, so John Hayward took his eye off the road, steered right over a flint and punctured his tyre. This is actually his second in two days after Scanny found last night that John's front tyre was flat too! We all decided to meet up and form one large pelleton instead of our 3 teams of 4 as the forthcoming roads were known to be very quiet. While waiting for all teams to come in, we were bounded upon by the world's largest dog! Luckily for us is was docile; if not then Rhys O'Leary would surely have lost his hand after forcing it to wear a Green Beret for a photo!

We couldn't leave Scotland without passing through Gretna and taking the customary photos of the border signs and ancient places of marriage. We even ended up with a police escort across the border but we're not sure if we were being escorted safely in to England or being booted out of Scotland! It was at this point that the clouds could clearly wait no longer and with less than 50 feet to the border, the rain came down - we couldn't even make it 4 days in Scotland without rain! On went the rain jackets (with spelling errors), off came the sunglasses, upheld was the morale though for we only had 7 miles to the finish - and what a 7 miles! From countryside in to the heart of Carlisle and rush hour traffic. Looming ahead was our final destination, the Castle, but could we find the entrance? Eventually, we found the moat, the gate and its portcullis. In the drizzling rain we made a grand entrance, cycling in to the front gate of a fantastic 'working' castle (The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment).

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Day 3 - Kinlochleven to Irvine - 103 miles. TOTAL: 303 miles.

Day 3!

For the third consecutive day, possibly a Scottish record, the sun beat down. We left the Clachaig Inn on time at 0830hrs and headed south along the A9. Immediately we hit the largest, longest, slowest hill of the day. It just went on forever. Luckily, everyone is starting to 'feel it' now and it was kept to a slow tempo.

The first stop was at the Green Welly Stop in Tyndrum where almost straight away members of the public walked up to donate cash to the cause. We can't thank them enough! We didn't stay long though and melted in to the distance, heading to Tarbet on the eastern shore of Long Lomond where we stopped for lunch at a lovely little cafe there. I don't think they'd ever been so busy but coped exceptionally well - certainly much better than the prison escapee who served us last night in Kinlochleven! Again, we were deluged with generous donations. The cafe themselves also gave us donations, thank you!

From there we took a west bearing and made it to Arrochar before heading south along a 'rippled' road (quote, Si Gair) to Garelochead before all the teams joined up and migrated en masse to the boat pickup point on the pier at Kilcreggan.  John made it very clear that the route was quite dangerous and that the sharp downhill to Garelochead had to be carefully navigated to avoid missing the turning and running in to oncoming traffic - only to miss the junction and head towards oncoming traffic! Luckily, Scanny was on-hand to record the whole thing on video.

At the pier we were joined by RM brothers from Fleet Protection Group, based a short distance across the loch in Faslane. It is worth thanking Rob's mate, Pinky, who travelled all the way from Edinburgh just to say hello. The 5 of them were to join us for the final 34 miles from Greenock through to our Irvine destination. We were almost without any bikes at one point, however, when a very suspect local decided to 'help' us get the bikes from the boats in Greenock. Clearly utterly plastered, he wouldn't take no for an answer....well, he had to in the end when we turned about to see him on his arse and Col Pete looking down at him! Noone saw what happened - honest, guv!

From Greenock Harbour we negotiated the rush hour traffic and took the A78 round the peninsula and south, via Largs, to Irvine. As we passed Largs, we came across a small village called Fairlie. The support crew were there already and had everything setup. Even better, however, were the kiddies funfair rides that we just had to test out. Squashing in to a plastic car designed for someone a third your size when your legs are screaming with lactic acid is no mean feat - but clearly worth it for the photo opportunities.

And so we made to Irvine train station on time and in good form.

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