After family reasons forced me and my husband Simon to pull out of last year’s Deloitte Ride Across Britain after five days – neatly coinciding with completing the England leg of the nine-day challenge – this year we only needed to ride four days to reach that iconic signpost in John o’Groats. Only…
This isn’t the blog I’d envisaged writing a couple of months ago. In fact it’s so far from it that it’s taken me this long to write it at all.
What I’d imagined was talking about the amazing time we’d had riding the new route of the RAB. For the first time it didn’t head up the west coast from Penrith towards Glasgow, it swung across the country towards Edinburgh, where it then went up the east side of Scotland, across the Cairngorms, before rejoining the old route at Inverness for the final day.
I’d be describing how we cycled across the Firth of Forth, tackled the scary sounding Lecht, watched eagles soaring above us in the Cairngorms (well, you never know!), and eventually got to see that bloody signpost… And I would now be working out what on earth we were going to do in 2019 to top it.
It didn’t exactly go to plan. Again.
It started off fine. We travelled up to Penrith on 12 September to rejoin the RAB ‘bubble’, arriving at the same time as many of the riders were finishing a day that had taken in Shap Fell, the highest point of the ride so far. They’d had better weather this year than last – well, it could hardly have been worse! – and at basecamp there were riders sitting outside relaxing, drinking beer, chatting around open fires. It was dry underfoot! This was more like it.
We settled ourselves in, partook of Lulu’s culinary delights, got up at 5am the next day and set off…
I couldn’t help feeling slightly fraudy to begin with, only starting on day six – it felt like we had to own up to other riders that it was our first day, even if they didn’t want to know (or care!), that last year it was circumstances beyond our control that had forced us to pull out.
In fact it had been quite a strange year of training for something that was going to be tough – four days of 100+ miles across Scotland – but nowhere near as tough as last year. Only two more days than we’d ridden on the RAB ‘training ride’, the Dulux Trade London Revolution.
But train we did, and this first day of the RAB for us, though by no means easy, was definitely doable.
Carlisle came and went, and very soon we were at Gretna and crossing the border – after stopping to take a pic or two to note the occasion.
Not having ridden the previous route, we weren’t sure what was to come or what would be so different. To start with, not a lot – it was a case of following the old trunk road next to the motorway, exactly as they would have done last year, basically up until the second feed stop. The surface wasn’t great, but you could get your head down and cover a lot of ground quite quickly.
Simon seemed to be on particularly good form and was on the front most of the time, me sheltering in his slipstream – which in hindsight might not have been the best idea…
We had a go at joining a group, concentrating on the wheel in front, ready to move up the line and take a turn at the front – but even though it’s a great way to preserve energy, it’s not really the way I like to ride. I want to sit up and enjoy the view and chat to my hubby, so rather than riding ‘through and off’, we dropped back and out.
The miles passed quite quickly anyway, and after about 70 of them and a second stop for fuel, we headed northeast, onto the new route that had been designed to be more enjoyable, if not necessarily any easier. It was a longer ‘day six’ than it had been – 115 compared with last year’s mere 100 – and hillier too.
Off the main roads the riding was definitely more appealing, though. The scenery improved, the road surfaces were generally better, away from the motorway it was quieter, it was all… nicer.
A third ‘pit stop’ only 20 miles or so from the finish provided a quick grab-and-go for those who needed it (we did), and then we caught our first glimpse of the Forth Bridge and Edinburgh in the distance.
Although my Garmin didn’t quite get to 115 miles (114.7, dammit!), it was still the longest I’d ever ridden – same for Simon – and we both felt great. Our average speed was higher than any of the five days we rode last year (yes, yes, below 15mph, but that’s good for us!), the legs felt fine, we were into basecamp earlier than we’d managed any day last year, too… It was all going so well.
And then – and Simon would like to apologise for scaring anyone – a couple of beers, a big dinner, a warm marquee, the speeches started… and out of the blue he fainted. Dr Simon and his team of medics were superb – leaping into action, monitoring, reassuring, advising, and eventually deciding that the most sensible thing would be for Simon to be assessed in a proper hospital rather than a tent in a field, and so he was taken to Livingston Hospital for 12 hours’ observation, by which time the RAB had moved on.
Which means we have unfinished business, second year in a row. Our friends near Inverness still have their homemade ‘Go Tass and Simon!’ banner to unfurl, there’s still a bottle of (ageing) champagne to uncork, that John o’Groats photo still to take…
Mind you, we had a nice impromptu weekend in Edinburgh, and compared with some people we were quite lucky… Even before the ride started one unfortunate chap had written off his bike – and possibly his car – on the way to Land’s End after an altercation with a car park height barrier in a motorway service station, proceeded to buy a brand new bike (the day before the ride started!), and then – AND THEN! – fell off and ended up in Truro Hospital on the first day.
At least we don’t have to worry about what to do next year… See you in Edinburgh perhaps – funnily enough, the new start of the Scotland leg next year. It’s almost as if it was planned especially for us.
Some people ride the RAB three years in a row; we’re hoping to manage it just once in three years.
> Next year’s Deloitte Ride Across Britain, its 10th anniversary, takes place 7-15 September. You can enter now here
Tass is our production pedant, who boldly goes hunting for split infinitives, rogue apostrophes and other things up with which she will not put. She joined road.cc in 2015 but first began working on bike magazines way back in 1991 as production editor on Mountain Biking UK, then deputy editor of MTB Pro, before changing allegiance to road cycling as senior production editor on Cycling Plus. She's ridden off-road but much prefers on, hasn't done half the touring she'd like to, and loves paper maps.