Trip of a Lifetime - by Mary Joynson

I didn’t mean to cycle from Land’s End to John O Groats. I foolishly told a cycling friend that I’d always wanted to do it when I was younger, and before I’d fully realised what was happening, we were planning to do it together in 2014. She was celebrating her 60th birthday, and at 68 I was just hoping to keep up.

The plan was hatched at the end of 2013, at which time I was very unfit. I’d had a light year of cycling following a serious accident in 2012, so training began in earnest at the start of 2014. Everywhere I needed to go I tried to go by bike, trying to do 100 miles a week. We started to make detailed plans and I realised we’d have to do 60 or 70 miles a day! I increased the training. At the beginning of June we loaded our pannier bags onto the bikes and set off on the train bound for Penzance, full of trepidation.

When we left the station at Penzance and set off towards Land’s End, I realised I’d made a Big Mistake. My companion (who was, and still is, very fit) rode away from me in the first mile of uphill! There was no way I could keep up. Mentally I started to make plans to crawl through Cornwall, Devon and Somerset and then catch the train at Bristol. That way, at least I could say I’d given it my best shot. While all this was going through my mind, I came to the top of the hill and started on a long descent. I don’t think I’m reckless when descending, but I do like a bit of an adrenalin rush. Half way down I swept past my companion, descending slowly with the brakes on. Wow! I realised then that we could make it work. She’d be first to the top, I’d be first to the bottom. It just meant we wouldn’t see much of each other.

We stayed overnight in a B&B in Penzance and set off north the following day. It was so hilly. I don’t know how I got through the day – my legs hurt so much. The following morning I was amazed to find I could still walk, so gamely set off again. We were delighted to get out of Cornwall, but then found the hills of Devon even worse. To add to the problems, we were soaked to the skin in a really heavy thunderstorm that lasted a couple of hours. As soon as we’d dried off the rain started again and we were soaked for a second time. I was not happy. I was dreaming of Bristol railway station!

On the third day everything changed. My legs gave up protesting, we left Devon and rode down onto the Somerset Levels, the sun shone a bit and life seemed good. By the time we reached Bristol on the following day, all thoughts of Bristol railway station had gone from my head, and we rode triumphantly across the Severn Bridge into Wales, the first ‘leg’ of our journey behind us.

The next few days we rode up the beautiful Welsh border country and eventually arrived in Cheshire – the closest point to home. On a drizzly Sunday morning we  met  family and friends for coffee at a garden centre. So many people came to cheer us on and support us! We were very touched. It turned into quite a party, and at 11.30 we had to tear ourselves away.

We continued north, but now getting further away from home each day instead of closer. We wriggled our way around greater Manchester, keeping to lanes as much as we could, eventually reaching Kendal - the half way point. From there, over the Kirkstone Pass, through Carlisle and on into Scotland. We followed the west coast as far as Fort William, up the Great Glen to Inverness and then up the east coast all the way to John o’Groats. 17 days after having our pictures taken at the LE signpost, we posed again in front of the JOG signpost, 1030 miles behind us. I can honestly say, no one was more surprised than me. 

But the biggest surprise was when the lady who kept the B&B where we’d stayed the night before, arrived at the signpost just as we were having our pictures taken. ‘Oh’ she said ‘You’ve beaten me! I couldn’t bear to think you’d ridden all this way and no body here to greet you, so I’ve rushed through my jobs and was hoping to get here before you. Never mind, let’s go in the café – lunch is on me!’ And so saying she marched into the café and treated us to lunch. What a star!

I’m so pleased I allowed myself to be talked into doing something against my better judgement. What a wonderful trip. I’ll never forget it. Oh, and not one puncture between us.