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LANDS END to JOHN O'GROATS CYCLE FOR SAM

DAY 14 - Helmsdale to John O'Groats!!!!!!

PhotoThe day started like every other on the whole tour. I felt a little unprepared due to having Lisa to wake up with and not being able to follow my own routine. I played at getting my bike and kit ready and then we had breakfast – chatting and laughing just like every other day. I remember it feeling very 'normal', not like The Last Day at all.

We set off and hit the first surprise of the day – a steep hill! Then the next surprise of the day – another steep hill and long too. So a warning goes out to anyone who attempts this challenge – it aint over until it's over! There are quite a few hills to get over on the last day; the road to Wick is as tough as any other. Di set an incredible pace throughout the morning and Nige and I struggled to keep up with her. My only chance was to tear downhill as fast as possible to catch up which resulted in breaking my speed pb – 47.5mph… Ave it!

As we pulled out of Golspie a transit van of riders came towards us. Having clearly finished their end to end (probably the day before) they all waved and beeped the horn madly. I remember laughing and waving back, just before my mood changed! That would be me in a few hours, driving back. The end of the adventure

At the first snack stop tempers were a little frayed at Di and her pace, probably mostly fuelled by the Last Day Blues. After that she slowed down a little. According to the guidebook (you'd think this would be in a skip by now) the road from Wick to John O Groats would be flat, and I suppose relative to the rest of the tour it was, but unfortunately the wind had other ideas!

The last hour into John O Groats was really tough.As we approached JOG we rode three abreast and almost ignored any of the car drivers, taking our time to pull in to let them pass. We'd talked about making a sprint to the finish and claiming to be the winner! But a funny mood had befallen us. Partly I wanted to enjoy every last pedal turn, suck in the view and savour the last moments and partly I wanted to find the famous sign, have my photo taken and go home.

John O Groats is a little nicer than Lands End – or maybe that was just down to the sunshine, rather than the howling gale that we started off in. There's no Dr Who museum or any of the theme park feeling that Lands End has, just a clutch of well kept whitewashed buildings around a small harbour, cafι, souvenir shop and probably a hotel somewhere. The only thing they have in common is the familiar signpost and the fact that they are both closely guarded by a photographer who wont let you get a shot of it yourself so you have to pay him £15 for that right. You'd think that after 976 miles in the saddle we'd earned it!

So we rode into town, passing Lisa as she took shots of us with the camera. We arrived at the sign and had a team hug, which we then had to re enact for Lisa as she came running up behind us, then we hugged everybody, and then it all went weird! I got hugely excited about the sign for Costa Coffee on the cafι wall; Di had to get souvenirs and didn't want to pay to pee and Nige handed out medals then sat in the van looking dark. I feel really sorry for Chris and Lisa. They couldn't do anything to help and they sort of looked a little lost as they desperately wanted to help us do what we wanted – but we didn't know what we wanted to do. So we packed up and left. We'd probably spend less that 30 minutes at the destination we had spent 14 day travelling to.

The mood in the van bounced along like the road. At times we sat quiet, sometimes we laughed frantically and we had some really bizarre conversations (imagine how tough it must be to be a washing line peg in Wick!!) Eventually we arrived in our hotel in Inverness and crashed in our rooms until the agreed meeting time for dinner. Lisa and I put together a set of framed 'awards' that I would handout at dinner.

We travelled about a bit in the van looking for a place to eat – Inverness is a really busy place on a Friday night! Eventually we found somewhere with a quiet corner. As the food arrived we all seemed to perk up. I handed out the awards – after mentioning the nominees for each. Lisa what awarded the 'Pants Award' for best support of the rear. Chris got the 'Safe Hands Award' for looking after us so well all week. Di got the 'Winton Churchill Award' for the greatest quote of the tour and Nige got the 'Toys Out Award' for the biggest tantrum of the tour. I think these went down quite well!

After an early night we all met up briefly before Lisa and I headed off in the van with all the kit and the rest of the guys flew from Inverness to Bristol. The drive south was actually really easy. It was nice to spend time with Lisa alone and we stopped frequently for hot drinks and food to break the journey up. Rocky Road Cake from Aveimore comes highly recommended as an athletes recovery food – especially one that is powered by Scotch Eggs!

 

POSTSCRIPT

As I put the finishing touches to this story and have chance to look over the events of those two weeks, I am compelled to make a confession.

No, before you all start asking for your sponsorship money back – I definitely did it and I've got the sores to prove it. The confession has got to do with WHY I did this. For those of you who are already bored with my own over indulged story all about me – stop reading now!

You see, on the face of it, I did this to raise money for Sam, whose story you must be familiar with by now. But the confession I have is that I didn't set out to help Sam at all. When Nige offered me the chance to join him on this great adventure I leaped at it. Having Lands End to John O Groats in my diary gave me purpose, it gave me a challenge that I knew, and with some hard work I could do it. Since leaving the Royal navy I have found myself in a strange environment where challenge and hard work don't always prevail. In the past I have always been able to tackle stress or beat the problem by physically working harder – run faster, carry more or stay awake longer; in civvy street it is very rare that these qualities actually seem to get you anywhere. So taking up the challenge of the tour was all about me, proving that I still have what it takes to focus and train for something that will put my body through the mill and my mind through something it can fully understand.

And then I told Lisa about it…

Lisa decided that such a huge challenge should have some greater purpose and so I should be doing it to raise cash and awareness for Sam and I agreed – but even then, it still wasn't about Sam. It was then about Lisa. I love Lisa very much. Through the tough times I've had over the past few years, coping with the change to civilian life and managing each of my physical conditions, Lisa has been there for me. Sometimes the help comes in the form of a good kicking and sometimes in the form of a good talking to, but in her own very unique way she has got me here. And I like it. Sam and his Mummy, Daddy and Brother mean a great deal to Lisa. I have only met them all once (I have never met Sam), the place that they are all at and the challenges they are going through daily are truly awe inspiring and would make someone even remotely connected to them want to do something to help. For Lisa, helping out is something that she just has got to do and when she feels she is not helping enough it cuts her to the bone. So taking on the challenge still wasn't about Sam, it was about giving something to Lisa to thank her for everything she has given to me.

And then I started to train properly – spending long hours in the saddle with only my thoughts for company.

Slowly but surely, with each longer ride I found that Sam would enter my thoughts more and more. I know very little of his condition and I suppose that unless you are very close to him or somebody else with muscular dystrophy, you will never really fully understand the day to day challenges that are faced by Sam and his family. What I do know is that the briefest stars will always shine the brightest. Sam's condition means that his time will be brief, but his impact on the world will be huge. Encouraged by an incredible network of family and friends he will make the most of every second and load each day with such an acute sense of his experiences that will put most of us to shame for not paying more attention to the years that we've had. And so finally the Lands End to John O Groats challenge became about Sam in a way that guaranteed that I would accomplish it.

I am grateful to all those who have sponsored me over the last months. Thank you to all of you who spared me a thought, text message or Facebook message. Thank you if you have given a thought for Sam, spent time on his website or even taken a moment of your time for someone else over the past few weeks. I hope that the money we've raised goes someway to finding cure or a way to ease the lives of people with Muscular Dystrophy and that the people I've met along the tour and told Sam's story to find some way to make a difference too.

But most of all I have to say a very personal thank you to Sam. The amazing little boy who I have never met who made me get off my backside and do something that gave me purpose. He drove me to complete a challenge that will stand as a huge punctuation mark in the story of my life. So you see it is about Sam – but not about what I could do for him, but selfishly what he has done for me and I will forever be in his debt.

Over to you now dear reader. Finish reading this (the end is close I promise) and go and do something to make you smile; walk to the pub instead of taking a taxi, get your bike out this weekend and potter along the river or skydive naked over the Sahara Desert. Do it because you can. This is Sam's gift to you...

 

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