Tuesday, 24 August 2010

John O'Groats to Cowbridge. Done.

I am very sorry for the delay in posting the blog, but it's been back to work and I have been swamped with admin work.

For those of you that didn't know and assumed the blog posts stopped after we gave up, WE MADE IT!!!

After a gruelling last day from near enough Builth Wells, adrenaline and the thought of waking up on Monday in your own bed and not having to cycle spurred us on.

The cycle bug hit South Wales in a big way with people encouraged to dust off their bikes and join us on our final leg. Fourteen quickly became seventeen as we were greeted by the Griffin father and son (Tim & Rhys) and friend Ed Pointer in Brecon on our pursuit up the Taff trail.

Whilst the ladies in particular were enjoying the uncharacteristic Welsh sun, they soon longed for some drizzle to cool us down after reaching the top of the particularly horrendous 20% Tal-y-bont hill (seemed more like a mountain).

Geoff was spotted wearing a smile as the peleton reached over 30 with the Andrews family and friends joining us before Merthyr. The smile was attributed to Geoff feeling that the new additions coupled with his sharpened toe caps was enough needed to tackle any horn honking motorists with force!

As we terrorised the taff trail we had an unfortunate injury within the group as Izzy Andrews managed to painfully catapult head first over her handlebars. Some nasty cuts to the face but thankfully for the helmet no broken bones or anything more serious.

As we slugged on to Merthyr we were greeted with an extremely warm welcome from our support team (Auntie Lisa, Julia & Rhian) who provided us with the much needed chocolate bars and encouragement. This was also our second rendezvous point and we picked up some more enthusiastic cyclists (the sensible ones who had obviously seen/heard of Tal-y-bont hill before!) in the shape of Peter & Freddie Dewey, John Boult, Sam Bayer, James Griffiths and James Rees & Auntie Jeffrey who had made the brave choice of riding a tandem (thankfully we were running rather late so they had a lot of practice time in the car park!).

Propelled on by our newcomers we carried along the taff trail en mass, finding time to enjoy some sociable drinks and soak up the sun on the way (Not John Boult who was rather anxious about the UV rays burning his scalp!).

The peaceful trail soon turned into some more substantial roads and Geoff was happy as cycling together we were now a force to be reckoned with. The police in particular felt so threatened that one member was pulled over, handed a contact card and urged to make a 'citizens arrest' on another member of the group (Harry H) for being on his phone while cycling.

Everyone's pace slowed down as we entered Culverhouse Cross, some hopeful for a cheeky pint, others for a deserved McFlurry and others for a rest before the infamous 'Tumble'. As legs began to strain, it was the thought that this was officially the last hill of the whole trip that gave us the proverbial kick up the backside.

Carrying along the A48 everyone was disappointed and what was an assumed easy 8 miles. What seems like a relaxing drive in the car was anything but on the bike as the wind, slight incline and poor surface sapped the already empty energy tanks.

Reaching the Mughal we found time to regroup, re-catch the breath and most importantly for the females, check the make up and hair. As we had just got into a fashioned sequence it was promptly ruined by an overtaking car who obviously mistook our white tops for bowling pins. Thankfully he scored a zero but Geoff seized the opportunity and set off on a last sprint down Primrose Hill. The sprinting practice had paid off as he managed to catch the man at the lights and once again exchange explicates.

Cycling into Cowbridge was an emotional experience as we were met with a truly amazing amount of supporters who cheered us in our achievement and welcomed us back to Cowbridge in style. As we enjoyed the fantastic bbq put on by Oscars, everyone enjoyed a lovely evening as drinks and stories were shared with family, friends and sponsors.

Photos to come, I am trying to collate them all together (If you have any please send them to freddie.hitchcock@gmail.com)

We would all like to thank everyone for a truly exceptional level of support that has allowed us to raise a significant sum of money, £27,000, that will be put to good use by Velindre Stepping Stones Appeal. We honestly could not have done this without the help of everyone!

P.S Following an excessive amount alcohol, Julian, Esther, Lydia and Freddie agreed to carry on to Lands End and finished last Thursday.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Are we nearly there yet?

692 miles done, 65 miles remaining.

After what seemed like an impossible task in the beginning, only one leg stands in the way of us finishing the 757 miles journey from John O'Groats through Ireland returning to our home town of Cowbridge. The journey has seen many lows (energy levels and moods) and many highs (hills) and despite loving it all, we are all looking forward to some well earned lazy days at home and lie ins.

This shall be the penultimate blog as I am sure that with more people joining us tomorrow it will prove to be an eventful day with tales worth telling and pictures worth seeing.

Today wasn't a very historic day at all and was an extremely short day in comparison. After yet another cooked breakfast, we set off from our hotel in Rhayader heading to Llangoed (well not straight away, it was raining outside so we had a bit of a sit down until the rain stopped). With a very speedy 10 miles along the A470 we reached the town of Builth Wells. With breakfast only an hour ago, we had some time to kill so naturally headed for a coffee shop and similarly to all the other coffee shop breaks, Julian raided the cake counter and bought them out of cakes.

A bit of excitement was when much to the horror of the pedestrians, Freddie's sunglasses fell off, unfortunately landed on his chain and not wanting to pedal and crush the glasses he sacrificed his knees and toppled over (he has cycling shoes with cleats that clip into the pedal).

Cycling on to our hotel we arrived significantly earlier than usual giving us time to sample their afternoon tea. With a quick game of croquet over, the women are 'foofing' themselves for dinner tonight and tomorrows final ride while the men are taking a quick nap to recharge the batteries.

Tomorrows ride sees us leave Llangoed at 9.30, arriving at Brecon around 10.30 and Merthyr (by the civic centre) at 12.30, continuing on the Traff trail and then the A48. It would be great to see you all join us tomorrow, whether it be on the bike or back in Cowbridge where we hope to be back by 6.

Here is the entertainment correspondence to fill you in on the X factor results.

For the avid follower of our X factor, last nights performance prove to be yet another entertaining night with Fred choosing the "horse " as our animal for the evening. the standard was yet again very high with not only the neighing and clip clopping but with lots of galloping around the room to add to their rendition . You can tell we must be nearing the finals as the competitiveness has moved to a new level especially as Isabel demonstrated her beast dumping its load in fairness it was one of the most ladylike dumps ever witnessed!! The final 4 were Is, Caroline,Jess and Johnnie they left us feeling we were actually in a ranch!! JG came through as a very convincing Stallion and was the winner.
Tonight we are apprehensive about the x factor as we have managed to clear every restaurant we have ever performed in and Llangoed hall has\actually requested that we\all wear jackets shirts and ties so I am sure they will not appreciate our animal antics!!!

P.s. Phones don't have a great signal here

Friday, 13 August 2010

Cycling up a mountain and down a hill.

After arriving in the beautiful seaside town of Aberdyfi and navigating our way to the hotel, the Penheliog Arms, Geoff spotted it was a Brains Inn and given that Brains are sponsoring the Captains Climb, made an impromptu e-mail to Scott Waddington (CEO of Brains) and they very kindly sponsored the wine for the evening, so a massive thank you for them for that. Also, we’d all said how we would all like to go back to Aberdyfi and the Penehliog Arms was a brilliant place to stay.

With Esther winning the X Factor competition; Well done Mel on guessing it was a peacock, her choice for the evening efforts was a goat (given the amount of Welsh Goats cheese that was being eaten). Freddie rather sheepishly accepted the win, with others detecting some slight nepotism from Judge Esther. With us enjoying a lovely meal and wine we retired for some much needed rest.

Today marked a tricky ride from Aberdyfi to Rhyader, a relatively small ride of 50 miles but along a road with some serious climbs as we journeyed over the Cambrian Mountains. Starting off at sea level we left in the knowledge that we had four main climbs before lunch (according to Geoff anyhow). At the top of every hill gasping for oxygen someone would always be quick to ask Geoff if that was one of the dreaded four hills, sadly the answers were no. As soon we got through Machynlleth we knew that the hills were imminent with the road sign exclaiming 19 miles to our lunch stop, Llanidloes along a narrow mountain road.

As we slugged on we were faced with what could only be described as a ski slope, a road equivalent of le Face in Val d’isere. As gears were rapidly shifted into as low as possible it was painful as you reached what looked like the summit, only to be graced with another corner and another steep climb. With lactic acid building up in everyone’s legs it took a serious amount of grunt and determination to reach the summit. Everyone was very glad of the new addition to the tuck shop, Energy Sweets, to give that extra energy boost when needed. Esther in particular binged on 2 packets as she cycled up the mountain.

Reaching the peak at 510m after the four mile incline the views were truly breathtaking, and everyone was even more grateful with Geoff announcing that the prior hill was actually 2 of the hills done. With no coffee shops at the top we carried with at least the knowledge that we must have some downhill. Everyone, well apart from Caroline (who has a fear of going down hills) was extremely glad of the long downhill with everyone managing to gather some serious speeds. JG sped along at particularly impressive 49mph on one downhill stretch and Caroline even managed to measure in a personal best.

Us collapsed at the peak

As the roads continued Geoff was the centre of some controversy as the number of ‘serious’ hills (serious defined as over 14% gradient) was definitely more than four! Lydia was at a low point of the whole trip and Caroline was in an even worst state exclaiming that this was the “worst day of her life”! Gladly arriving at our lunch destination we explored the town to find somewhere that could serve us all. We all hoped for some tasty food as it was the thought of food that had got most of us up the hills!

Moving on from lunch we were joined by Ed who was determined that he wanted to cycle up a mountain. Five minutes in and he was eating his words as the road continued up some extremely steep hills.

Esther collapsing after an intense hill climb.

Finally arriving at our hotel in Rhyader all of us our completely exhausted and despite our increase in fitness the cumulative fatigue is definitely taking its toll.

Photos of the fatigue setting in:

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Criccieth to Aberdyfi

I’m sorry for leaving yesterday’s post rather unfinished but my phone was on the brink of dying and I wasn’t prepared to risk losing what I had already written.

Carrying on from the unfinished bridge we admired the views as we descended into the small seaside town of Criccieth. The last two miles are always the hardest as you know how close you are, but everyone usually splits up and gets lost as we hunt for the hotel, yesterday was no exception. A warm welcome party of Auntie Lisa and Auntie Jeffrey greeted us with a proudly waived Welsh Flag (thank you to Southerdown Golf Club for lending it!) and some much needed beverages.

With a quick shower we met downstairs for some more drinks and some tasty food. With it being Harry’s last night Judge Hole once against held a kangaroo court session to punish the misdemeanours of the last few days. Notable charges included;

Esther Hitchcock - Obtaining more shoes through Josh’s visit to Dublin and getting Auntie Lisa to bring extra clothes.

Geoff Graham – Road Rage.

Julian Hitchcock – Some particularly tragic cycling outfits.

X Factor also got under way with Rachel having the honour on deciding upon the topic. Have a look at the video below to try and ascertain what you think the finalists of Geoff, Jess, Esther and Auntie Lisa are impersonating.

Also, I have been informed that the last video I posted didn’t actually show Pauls cow impression; it was a breakdown in communication and understanding between the filming crew and editing staff! Should be below:

After some drinks to celebrate another type of result and some banter with the newcomers we hit the sack for some much needed sleep.

Waking up to a Welsh fry up we got on our way with Superman to Criccieth castle. Cycling on to Portmaddog the heavens opened and even Superman’s powers were ineffective as the rain drenched us all. Feeling the need to thaw out we stopped off at Harlech for a cake break. While some went to explore the castle, others took the chance to challenge themselves against a 40% gradient hill! The incline was so steep that you had to get off and walk down part the hill as applying the brakes was a futile attempt at slowing down! With a car interrupting JG’s first attempt up the perilous incline it was his bike that came off worse at the second try as the chain snapped under the pressure.

With a quick pit stop we had to say goodbye to Superman and Auntie Lisa as their help was needed elsewhere. They helped spurred us on through the Welsh rain and would be welcomed back to the tour anytime.

Getting back on the wet road to Aberdyfi we had our worst accident so far with Jess hitting a curb and bouncing along the road. Thankfully all is well after some first aid attention by on call Dr. Graham and a scone break shortly afterwards. Some onlookers have argued that Freddie was out to avenge his earlier scuffle with Jess, but when questioned by Sky Sports Freddie strongly denied any such motive.

Cycling on some memorable roads with some picturesque views; people cycling close to Geoff stated that they could sense him itching to lash out on motorists as they came close when passing him. Its hard to think that a man that loves his naps can get so agitated.

Arriving safely I’ll keep you posted with tonight’s antics.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Bubbling Dublin

Firstly, apologies for the lack of pictures and spelling mistakes. I've had to rely upon my blackberry yet again.

With yesterday being an official tour rest day, not much in cycling terms happened. It gave us an opportunity to rest our bodies and recover from the frolic of temple bar the night before.

With Josh Rees-Hole joining us for our few days in Dublin and dinner underway the Guinness and wine yet again flowing we felt the need to over indulge (not that we have held back the rest of the trip!) To make the most of our aptly named 'recovery day'. The X factor competition again when down to the wire with Rachel emerging as the winner from the final 3 of Julian, Simon and herself.

Rachels pingu prevailed but Julians impression also deserves an honourable mention as he managed to scare one waiter to death by following her away from the table with a sqwalk and a waddle. Moving on from food and navigating our way through the cobbled streets to Temple Bar; we endured more alcohol and joined in with the Irish craic.

Waking up with a splitting headache we all sought comfort with a full fry up. Learning about how Guinness was made wasn't the best hangover cure, but we jumped back on the bandwahon with a pint at the panoramic bar at the top of the brewery. Sunny weather leant itself perfectly to an open top bus tour and everyone was searching eagle eyed for somewhere to stop for lunch.

After a few bottles of wine at lunch and some tasty french food the women went shopping with the men retiring back to the hotel. The evening was a rather sober affair with most of the group going to watch River Dance while the others took the opportunity of an early night.

Up at 6 to grab some early brekkie we got on our way to the Dublin port for our morning ferry. As the Welsh hills came into sight everyone was overwhelmed with a sense of achievement and that the fact that we are so close to finishing our trip.

As we embarked on the first road (a busy dual carriage way) we all embraced the roads which consisted of newly laid tarma - a trteat compared to the pot-holed-riddled lanes in Ireland! However, it didn't take us long to realise we were out of our depths and didn't stand much chance up against arctic lorrys hurtling by. With Geoff in charge of directions we took a quick de tour for our lunch stop at Llanfair PG, also known as Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgigerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, bit of a mouthful!

With a few pints over yet another pub lunch (we could all become food critics) we got back on our way to our destination, Criccieth. Some hairy moments on the road and Geoff managed to get himself into another shouting match with an impatient driver. Point to note - cycling shoes with cleats aren't the best for kicking cars as by the time he'd got his feet out the car was already 20m past! Following along some lovely cycle paths we were a bit dismayed by getting halfway along and finding the next section closed (everyone had flashbacks of Ireland). Deciding to take a risk we followed it anyhow only to come to a half built bridge but gambled on the wooden planks being strong enough and made a quick dart across it. Despite all the trips weight gain, they were.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Better late than never

Apologies for the belated blog update but Saturday marked the end of our first week/first night in Ireland and I am sure you will understand that the Guinness was calling.

Friday night saw the X Factor competition hit new heights with the judges both awarding maximum marks to Paul and Julian for their impressive impersonations of a ‘Scottish Highland Cow’. With it going to deadlock we would like to grant you, the audience, the power to decide the winner. Watch the video below and vote in the poll. Nanna, please note that multiple votes are not allowed!

The ferry from Troon (Scotland) to Larne (Northern Ireland) called for an earlier than normal breakfast. With it being the last morning in Scotland we once again took full advantage of the Scottish fry up on offer and got on our way. With the wind whipping up the waves it was fortunate that the breakfast didn’t resurface as it did for many others on the boat.

Arriving in Larne we met up with the newest member of our team, Johnnie Graham. His fresh legs and youth were drafted in to spur us on through our Irish pursuit. With Scotland behind us we assumed that hills were a thing of the past, sadly not.

The first hill was more of a bobsleigh track made even more of a struggle with the sun beaming down on us (not that we haven’t enjoyed the sun, it’s been so much nicer than the Scottish rain!). With our delayed start (the ferry didn’t get in til 12) we covered ground quickly and stopped rather conveniently at a town with a classic car exhibition. With a Sainsburys in sight we grabbed some munch, sat on the grass and basked in the sun.

Off on our way to Downpatrick we rather quickly cycled through Belfast with Caroline and Paul particularly anxious about wearing their orange cycling jackets! With Geoff in charge of directions we somehow managed to turn a supposedly straightforward cycle into a country detour, with the mileage signs only changing by 2 miles despite a 14 mile ride.

Eventually arriving at our destination- a hotel come pub- we decided to jump straight into the Irish spirit with a round of Guinness. This marked the beginning of the end.

The X Factor competition resumed over dinner and with the winner from Friday tied it was up to both Paul and Julian to decide upon the nights animal. They rather bizarrely agreed upon a ‘Frog-Pig’, with it open to interpretation it was Jess who prevailed as she wowed everyone with both aspects ; the ‘Ribbit’ and the ‘Oink’.

The night also hosted the first session of ‘Kangaroo Court’ held by Judge Hole to punish tour members who had offended in some way. Each person had to put forward a charge, which was in turn read out by the judge. The offender was given the opportunity to defend his or her position and then was punished accordingly. Sentencing varied between ‘2 fingers of Guinness’ to ‘downing’ the entire thing. Such offences included:

Geoff - Charge: Questionable Map Reading Skills- Punishment: Whole pint

Esther -Charge: Breaking Caroline’s Bike by Sitting on the Wheel- Punishment: Whole glass of wine

Caroline – Charge: Damaging the atmosphere by applying her brake pads too often- Punishment: Two fingers of wine.

Bear with me on the photos, Geoff has got them on his camera and he is in the shower.

After court was convened we moved into the bar to join in with the local craic. Is and Esther (who were spurred on by the effects of their recent court punishments) decided to take charge and pull out the Velindre donation box to pass around the locals who were equally inebriated! After many generous contributions, the ladies decided to award the contributors with a boogie in the middle of bar, with Is wining the impromptu ‘Rocker of the Night’ award with some particularly enthusiastic moves. Meanwhile, Geoff was overheard slurring on his pint that it was impossible to get drunk from Guinness, a quote proven to be completely unfounded given his hangover the following morning.

With sleep kept to a minimum, it wasn’t surprising that breakfast was pushed back from its originally scheduled time. The question on everyone’s mind was of course whether an Irish breakfast could live up to its Scottish predecessor. Thankfully potato scones and sodabread were welcome additions at the expense of porridge.

Hangovers all round the first couple of miles weren’t as easy going as we’d hoped. With Guinness and wine sweating from the pours it was a welcome break when Esther’s bike gear bracket falling off. With maintenance man Julian out of his depth and unable to fix the bike, the SOS call to the fun bus was needed so that Esther could jump on the spare bike. A coffee break in order and with Geoff feeling the effects of the Guinness it seemed only fair to walk out of the cafe while he was having a nap. After waking up to the giggling locals, he rapidly made his way outside while we found the time to laugh at him some more.

Stopping off for a carvery lunch at for what could only be described as a village hall we made the most of the generous portions, with Jess in particular eating a plate that would have fed a small island.

Setting off rather lethargically we had to cycle through Newry; a place we were told not to stop off at as the locals in Downpatrick retold the story of how 10 years ago a group of cyclists where shot down, an event they said could happen again anytime soon. With the pace picking up and passports to hand up we reached Dundalk around 7, where we retired to a takeaway pizza and the hope of watching Sherlock Holmes (it had been advertised all week). Sadly, after some channel hopping on the archaic TV we soon realised that BBC didn’t exist in the Republic of Ireland, a big blow.

With effort levels being so high throughout the week in the X Factor competition, a welcome rest was also needed to restore our delicate voices.

A good night’s sleep under our belt got ready for our last cycling day in Ireland, Dundalk to Dublin. While loading up the van, Julian and Geoff managed to let the dog out and sprinted after him; Esther received a phone call from a panting Julian saying that they had cornered the dog (a Jack Russell), only to be told that the owner said its ok, he goes on a morning wander every day! Getting on our way in the Irish rain we were boosted by the thought that tomorrow (Tuesday) a rest day and the thought of a lie in was extremely comforting.

With Geoff in charge of directions (you would have thought we would have learnt our lesson) we managed to link up with some cycle paths. In Scotland the cycle paths were short, but at least you could hop back onto the main road. The Irish cycle paths were all together a different matter. One cycle path into Dublin was particularly impressive while it lasted, crossed a bridge and then just led into a hedge!

After nearly getting killed on a number of roundabouts we found our way into Dublin. Having to navigate around some oncoming trams and buses we were relieved to finally find our hotel.

I am sitting in the bar, Guinness in hand while everyone else has gone for a relaxing shower. I shall inform you tomorrow of tonight's tales, but I am positive that Guinness, temple bar and dancing shall be involved!

P.s. We have passed the 500 mile mark! Joints and limbs are most definitely feeling it!

P.p.s. The B&B in Dundalk had a weighing scales and I have been told to inform you all not to expect any skinnier versions! Reported weight increases were as much as 8lb (Muscle weighs more than fat!)

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Downpatrick to Dundalk

Despite yesterdays promise I am really sorry to say that I have typed up the blog, but the B&B we are stayin in doesn't have internet! We leave for Dublin tomorrow and I'll be sure to post the blog as soon we get there.