Cancer and Cystic Fibrosis have either directly or indirectly affected a number of our employees. We wanted to do something to raise money as a thank you for the support and treatment that was received, so employees from Savannah Group are completing a cycle ride from Lands End to John O’Groats to raise money and awareness for Macmillan, Breast Cancer Now and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
Please do your bit and donate generously! Link to our Just giving Page
After arranging to meet for breakfast, we all meander down in our own time. I make it first, then Peter, followed by Gil, and finally James. Full English for James and me; a guilt free feast. I hardly slept the night before as adrenalin was rushing through me and my arms were aching from the constant yanking of handlebars, trying to get up and over the small but steep inclines the day before.
We are expecting to meet with Alex Martin from Savannah at Poldark Inn, but receive a text to say that he’s actually booked his accommodation near that day’s destination and not the start. The good news is that he will ride out to meet us.
At 9am we assemble at the entrance to the Hotel (more of a pub), and off we go. Pedals turn quietly under the north Devon sun. The sea glistens to our right. And I feel nauseous at the thought of another day in the saddle, now with two co-workers, whom I need to ensure believe I will make this trip.
After a pleasant hour of undulating ups and downs and passing through picturesque villages, we reach the strangely named parish of ‘Week St Mary’. As this is our two hour pit stop, the three of us descend on the local convenience store-cum-post office, our Lycra and helmets drawing us into conversation with the locals and the owners. We agree that Cornish pasties have to be the snack of choice and as we leave, both the store owner and a customer give us money for our charitable cause. We are humbled.
As we sit and eat our tasteless pasties on a bench on the village green, we notice the war memorial and comment on the fact that every village we have passed from Land’s End has one, crammed with the names of numerous families. The enormity of the First World War and the sacrifice of virtually every family at the time is quite daunting. This was not what I expected to take way from today’s ride.
We move on looking to make a rendezvous with both Peter and Alex at around 1pm. But at around 11.30am Devon starts to let us know that Cornwall was not the queen of the mountains she thought she was. There should be a warning: Beware of the Camel – a valley so steep that by now I am angry with everything: the Camel, Gil’s bike computer, and the fact that the Camel valley serves no purpose other than to punish anyone stupid enough to poke a front wheel its way.
The only other action to take place affects both James and Gil, who are independently attacked by low flying startled pheasants; both nearly have head on collisions.
The Camel valley then pales into insignificance. To date ( I am now on day 9) we have not come across a monster hill quite like what comes next, in England or Wales. Named Black Torrington, this little sod is so steep that you are forced to dismount on the way down lest you slip off the side. A 25-30% gradient incline covered in rocks, moss and branches, the effort needed to haul ourselves up sees both James and me defeated. The climb is worth it though, if only for the view; for standing there, fresh-faced and resplendent in his new Savannah top, is Alex Martin with his bike, and our support driver Peter Hart. Alex looks fresh and fit. We do not.
The remainder of the ride is both pleasant and full of chat; Alex (ex Mountain Biker) absolutely chews up any hill put in his way, swiftly followed by a rejuvenated James. Gil and I tell ourselves we have a long way to go so pacing ourselves is essential. In truth, we can barely keep up!
The lanes of Devon are pretty as well as steep, many caked in farm wastage, meaning our bikes look as though we have completed a cross country.
Having identified our evening’s B&B, with 15 miles to go, James and Gil are ‘Volvo lifted’ to Taunton, where a train awaits James and a chiropractor Gil. Alex, is an absolute godsend, as he rallies me on through the final hour of twists and turns and ups and down.
It is with immense satisfaction that we complete the dreaded first two days. They would have been doubly difficult without the support of the team.
A Big Thank You Guys!
Now to let loose on the Somerset Levels!!
Day 1 – Land’s End to the Poldark Inn
As we enter the car park we spot James with his brother getting his bike and gear set up. We do the same, interrupted briefly by a pair of Kiwis, also attempting the ride but keen to know what the test score is. I tell them that West Indies beat England. They realise I don’t understand the question and move on.
We move as a group – now 5 of us with James and his brother – to the iconic signs, take a lot of photos, then set off. At this point I feel physically sick. What in god’s name have I set myself up for? We make good time, speed past the coast, through Newlyn, where I take a selfie at the famous School of Art sign. We take additional photos at St Michael’s Mount.
After about two hours of pleasant conversation and rolling hills, the punishment begins: punch after punch of climbs and descents, unrelenting and unforgiving. James is a godsend, quick and strong, good conversation and banter. We quickly learn that Weak Bridge means, sharp descent, followed by mossy and unassuming bridge, a slight S-bend – so no gravitational benefit – followed by a knee retching 25% degree climb. And then the buggers keep coming, thick and unfortunately fast. Just when we think it can’t get any worse, it starts to rain.
On the positive front, we see an osprey, lots of road kill and, during our lunch break, we are offered sponsorship for our trip by many people.
With light fading and hunger setting in, after 7 hours in the saddle, we see the signs for the Poldark Inn. Peter is patiently waiting, his camera lens fixed as we arrive and alight.
Gil immediately and effectively organises an impromptu stretch and warm down session. Peter secures a restaurant booking with Gil, while James and I elect to stay in, for a quick catch up and a meal of jacket potatoes, beans and cheese with, of course, a pint of Cornish Bitter.
We take ourselves off to bed, to be woken at 1am by various members of the Poldark Inn Darts Team arguing (‘I’ve never stole a thing in my life and if you think I have say it to my face’). I am too tired to hear the conclusion. I fall asleep awaiting the dreaded second day.
Day Before Day 1
A day like no other, packed and ready, my bike sits in the hallway of our St Albans house, awaiting its first real test. I have ridden a few sportives and use it most weekends while riding with my club, but this is different. 13 days from Land’s End to John O’Groats, I will pedal my way from the very foot of Britain to the top, embracing the diversity of thinking, culture and vistas that the country has to offer. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, firstly, my gears. They’ve been playing up. So before my 11am pickup with Gil Yaron, my co-rider, and Peter our support driver, I make a dash to a local Cannondale dealer to check my derailleur (tech term for gears).
Our car has been very generously loaned to us. It’s a 22 year old Volvo V70, which despite smelling of old men and having an electronic system, including the lights, with a mind of its own, runs extremely well.
We pack too many suitcases, creams for sore backsides, energy gels and bars and a spare bike, and head off into the fading August sunshine.
Missing our turning from the M25 for the M4, we are forced to take the M3. Too much talking! I feel sick with worry and apprehension. Not enough training, have I forgotten anything, the dreaded first two days that everyone and anyone who has ever ridden this ride tell you about in hushed tones with a knowing look and an intake of breath. Usually accompanied by the scratching of the chin.
We discuss the upcoming challenge, where Gil can source Avocados en route, and the many riders who will be supporting us over the coming weeks, the first of whom is James Twiston Davies, my colleague from Savannah Group.
Update 23rd August
Our first donations have started coming in and our Savannah Cycling Jersey’s are on the way!
The route we have plotted is approximately 1,110 miles and will take us 14 days. The route takes us up the West of England, along the Welsh border, through the Lake District, up into Scotland, past Fort William before finishing at John O’Groats on the 13th September.
We will be posting a daily update on this blog to let everyone know how we are getting on and document the up’s and down’s along the way. Please share this page with family, friends and colleagues and help us raise as much money as possible to fight Cancer and Cystic Fibrosis.
A big thank you to everyone who has supported and donated so far, and special thanks to Legacy Motors who have kindly loaned us a support vehicle to follow along with the riders.