The A-to-Z of the Ride Across Britain

The 2013 Deloitte Ride Across Britain

Since I’ve been back, I’ve been trying to write up my experiences from my recently completed Ride Across Britain. I started to write a daily diary type article, but quickly decided to abandon it – after all there’s only so many ways I could write – “Got Up early, Rode over 100 miles, Ate a lot, and Slept” before you got very bored, besides other people have done it far better than I could.

As such I thought an A-to-Z of my RAB experience might be a bit more entertaining, it remains to be seen if I am right, but let’s give it a go, and perhaps you can tell me what you think!

A is for Alarm Call

At 5:30 sharp each morning the PA system came to life with a cycling related tune to wake weary RABers from their canvas ensconced slumber. From Queen’s Bicycle Race to The Proclaimer’s 500 miles, all the bases were covered. I was never actually woken by the music though as daylight did the job well in advance – usually around 4:30am. In the far north of Scotland we had no darkness to speak of – nothing more than a couple of hours dusk in the middle of the night, so sleep didn’t always come easily!

B is for Base Camp

At the end of each day we were welcomed in to a new Base Camp. Each one was remarkably well equipped, and everything was laid on for us. The tents were assembled in neat rows, food was plentiful (see F), and medical and therapeutic services were available to all that needed them – which was an increasing number of people as the days went on. The Base Camps were a mixture of green field sites – such as Launceston Rugby Club and Race Courses such as the famous Aintree racecourse in Liverpool. At the Green Field sites a large marquee was assembled as a dining and relaxation area, with many smaller marquees holding the other services such as a clothes drying area. On the race courses we were given use of the grandstand dining areas and other entertaining suites. On balance I think I preferred the greenfield sites as things were less dispersed which added to the traveling carnival feeling that such a large event has.

camp-site-rab

C is for Crew

From the chaperones, to the tent erectors, the baggage handlers to the Posh Wash shower attendants and the Threshold team, it is the crew that really make the event special. Nothing is ever too much trouble, you never want for anything and above all are made to feel like far more than a ‘customer’ by everyone that you encounter. The event really is a logistical miracle – assembling a base camp from nothing each day so that it’s ready as riders start to arrive really must be a massive challenge. Every day we were greeted into the basecamps by cheery faces and all of the admin tasks – getting your tent, massage, baggage etc – were dealt with without fuss or drama. This leaves you as the rider free to focus on the ride without worrying about any logistical challenges at all. This is worth the entry fee on its own to me.

D is for Devon.

Now, I’ve been to Devon a lot. We went there on family holidays for most of my childhood, and I’ve been back many times as an adult. What I never noticed before is how hilly it is! Really it is an evil evil county when you’ve got 7 days riding in your legs! In most of the rest of the country, when road builder encounter a hill then build around it, in Devon then plough on over. All of them. While there are no big mountains to speak of, it is never flat – you’re either going up or down. This results in some of the biggest elevation gain numbers of the entire trip. I think I need to revisit Devon on my bike with fresh legs to really appreciate it, but at the end of a very long trip it was hard to look at it with anything other than disdain.

E is for Exhaustion

On such a long journey both mental and physical exhaustion are inevitable at some stage. Over the course of 9 days there wasn’t a part of my anatomy that didn’t hurt at some point. From saddle soreness and aching knees to sunburn and midge bites. That might not make the trip sound too appealing, but it’s exactly this pain that makes it all so worthwhile. Pushing yourself beyond your perceived limits and digging deeper than you ever thought you could. The Threshold motto is “More is in you” and after this trip I truly believe that.

F is for FOOD

Burning several thousand calories each day demands plenty of fuel, and the food on RAB was awesome. There’s no other word for it. Plentiful breakfasts of porridge and cooked options, well stocked Pit Stops through the day with *real* food not energy gels (the rice puddings were a particular favourite!), and proper homecooked dinners and desserts. As a vegetarian I am used to somewhat limited and unimaginative choices, but this was not the case at all. Multiple choices of healthy, filling and tasty food were on offer at every meal. You really could eat as much as you wanted at each meal!

G is for Group Riding

Riding in a group is something that a lot of people avoid, worried that they are too slow/will be held up/won’t know what to do, but on a trip like this it’s something you simply must do. When you’re 70 miles into a hilly day of riding into a headwind, being able to shelter for a few miles behind someone else makes all the difference. You use roughly 30% less energy when riding behind someone even on a calm day, and it really helps. It also means that you have people to help you when you’re having a bad day – as I did on day 8 (see D) – safe in the knowledge that you’ll be helping them when they have a bad day.

H is for Hills

The United Kingdom might not be an alpine nation in anyway, but boy is it hilly! From the passes of the Scottish Highlands to the jagged coastal cliffs of Devon and Cornwall, you very rarely get any sustained flat sections on the JOGLE route. The total ascent on the trip was nearly twice the height of the summit of Everest from sea-level! But it’s the hills that make the trip interesting and give a ride it’s character. Somehow, the hillier the day the quicker it passed as it gave you targets to conquer and a feeling of achievement everytime you made it up a seemingly insurmountable slope.

I is for Island

On this trip we traversed the length of this wonderful island nation and got to understand it’s countryside, contours and true personality. I truly don’t believe there’s anyway to do this in the same way as on a bike. Being able to experience the changes as you transition from county to county, and countryside to city is a true privilege.

J is for John O’Groats

A hell of a place to get to, and not much there when you do, but no End to End is complete without it. We arrived via a flight to Inverness and a long coach transfer, sadly too late for the official signpost to still be in place (apparently it’s taken down each night due to previous acts of vandalism) and had to make do with a picture by the sign on the gift shop.

K is for Kids

On Day 5 of the trip, we made the legendary ascent of Shap fell. A climb that no end to end is complete without. For us this was a particularly grim weather day – visibility at the top of Shap summit was down to 10m! About half way up the climb is the village of Shap itself where we had a scheduled pitstop. This was a particularly special stop as were greeted by hoards of kids from the local school! They cheered each rider into the stop and were wandering around sweetly asking for rider’s autographs! It was a really special and slightly surreal experience that helped provide an extra boost for the push to the top of Shap.

Mist Rab

L is for Land’s End

The destination that you try to put out of your mind for for first 8 days of the trip. Arrival at Land’s End was an emotional experience. We were cheered across the line by name on the PA system and presented with a finishers medal, took the customary photo at the signpost before making our onward journeys.

lands-end-sign-sam

M is for Massage

The team of students from Birmingham University did a sterling job of keeping aches and pains away with their sports massage services. Each rider received a massage every other night and it was always something to look forward to despite the discomfort that it inevitably involved. Massaging several hundred riders a night must result in some seriously painful hands, but the students were always cheery and interested in hearing about the days ride.

N is for Nine Hundred and Ninety

The number of miles I covered all told. 8 consecutive rides over 100 miles followed by one little 94 mile ride.

O is for Olympics

Or Paralympics to be precise. The Ride Across Britain’s chosen beneficiary charity is the British Paralympic Association and we were honoured with the presence of several athletes on the ride. One chap did the longest day on a handcycle which left me completely in awe. We were also joined on the entire ride by the chairman of the BPA, and winner of 23 Paralympic Golds, Tim Reddish who rode on a tandem with a variety of different pilots.

P is for Pit stops

Each day had typically 2 pit stops – 3 on the longer days – at roughly 30-40 mile intervals. Each was stocked with plentiful food to eat there and take with you, from sandwiches to chocolate, from crisps to rice pudding. All very tasty and all very welcome! The pit stops also provided a useful means to regroup with other people that you might have lost on the way, and to catch up on people’s experiences so far. As tempting as it was to linger at the stops earlier in the ride, we got into a ‘refuel, restock and ride’ routine later in the trip to avoid seizing legs. A few of the stops were in really lovely locations, particular highlights were at Chepstow Bridge and The Bike Chain in Bissoe on Day 9 which provided a nice respite from the rain with a coffee inside the cafe!

Q is for Quads

The burning sensation in the quads at any slight incline in the road started earlier and earlier each day and was just one of the many sensations to overcome and push through in order to reach the ultimate destination of Land’s End.

R is for Route

The Ride Across Britain does not take the standard End to End route. It is substantially longer, and more meandering. This means that you get to experience better roads, better scenery, and far less traffic. The route is devised by Andy Cook who has many hundred of thousands of mile under his wheels, and has obsessively produced a route that is unrivaled. The route across the top of Scotland via Bettyhill was a particular highlight – if there’s a better road in the world then I’d be very surprised. Other than the need to navigate a couple of major cities – Liverpool and Bristol spring to mind – exposure to large volumes of traffic is minimized. There were days when we barely even encountered an A-class road!. The route is also fully sign posted, so it really is practically impossible to get lost – what more could you want?

S is for sun

No matter how good the organisation and logistics, there are some things that can’t be controlled. Chief among those is the weather. We had pretty much everything you wouldn’t want from rain to strong headwinds (oh the headwinds!), but the part of the journey where you’d most want good weather was glorious. The first 3 days through the Highlands of Scotland were glorious. Blazing sun and perfect temperatures. I think this has the potential to be a fairly bleak part of the trip in bad weather, but for us it was simply perfect. The weather was less generous to us for the rest of the trip. The headwinds were at times fierce, and the temperature rarely allowed riding without adorning yourself with multiple layers and leg and arm warmers. That said, the rain although persistent was rarely that heavy for long – especially at the base camps.

T is for Tent

I’ve always enjoyed camping, so sleeping under canvas each night was a highlight of the trip for me. My little 2 man tent became my cosy home each night, and I soon settled into a routine where everything had it’s place to avoid it becoming like a bomb site each day. I think even the most reluctant campers settled into it by the end of the trip.

U is for Undercarriage

I’d like to introduce you to the commandments of chamois cream usage : Thou shalt apply plenty of chamois cream and when thou thinkest thou has applied enough, thou shalt apply some more. Seriously, the road suffices in this country are not the best overall and this causes friction and discomfort – believe me, you do not want that happening when you still have 800 miles to ride! It didn’t take many days for the state of your saddle soreness to become normal breakfast conversation, and trade in sachets of chamois cream became common place!

V is for Views

From the dramatic vistas of the pass of Glen Coe to St Michaels Mount, breathtaking views were around every corner on the trip. Rarely an hour passed without at least one fabulous view. A particular highlight for me was crossing the Severn Bridge. The views across the Avon are spectacular, and re-entering England after a brief sojourn into Wales was oddly emotional for me. I think because Bristol is somewhere I have spent quite a bit of time, and it being somewhere I associate as ‘on the way from home to Land’s End’ really connected with me.

cyclist-open-road

W is for Wind

As I’ve mentioned, the weather was not kind to us. In case you don’t know, the prevailing winds in this country are South Westerlies which is exactly the direction we were headed from lunchtime on Day One to the end of Day Nine. We didn’t get the light June winds you’d expect, rather we got 20mph gusting to 30mph winds a rather large proportion of the way. But, hey that’s the challenge of a North to South ride. These windy conditions particularly emphasised the importance of (G).

X is for Xylophone

Because X is always for Xylophone. Seriously, what else did you expect?

Y is for Yearning

Finishing the trip, I am left with a deep seated yearning to keep going. To get on my bike and cycle every morning without a care in the world was very freeing, and it’s very hard to come back to real life again. What I do know is that I want to experience the single minded focus of a big trip again, and soon!

Z is for Zone

At the start of the ride each rider was assigned to a colour zone. this colour dictated where you racked your bike, where your tent was and which days you got your massage. A really simple idea that made the organisation really rather smooth – trying to find your bike in the mornings, bleary eyed and exhausted would certainly have been a lot harder in they had not been divided in this way!

bike-parking

Well that’s it, my A to Z of RAB. There’s only so much about the experience that can be conveyed in text and pictures, so if you fancy taking on the challenge of an End to End ride, then I can not recommend The Ride Across Britain highly enough. It really has been a completely life changing experience for me, and we were so well looked after by the Threshold Sports crew.

Next year the ride will be going South to North (so you can hopefully worry less about W!) and takes place from 6th – 14th September. You can find more details and register your interest at http://www.rideacrossbritain.com/

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19 Responses to The A-to-Z of the Ride Across Britain

  1. Jack 27/06/2013 at 9:36 am #

    A brilliant, inspiring read! Thanks. I think I’ll wait until the next north to south ride, though – I’ve always wanted to cycle in Scotland as I love the country, but would much rather do it while my legs are still fresh!

    • Tony 28/06/2013 at 8:30 pm #

      Jack, I did RAB North to South this year but last year did it South to North. I found my legs were fine going North and really enjoyed Scotland. The climbs are less steep, so less painful and you get to enjoy the glorious countryside.

  2. Sam 27/06/2013 at 9:40 am #

    Jack – believe me it’s far more important to have fresh legs in Devon and Cornwall than Scotland ;)

    Thanks for your kind comments!

  3. Ian Hayhurst 27/06/2013 at 1:23 pm #

    Superb job Andreas. Great way to present it, kept me reading to the end. Well done on your achievement. It sounds petty to mention that you put the lands end photo on the J is for section… But I will. Once again fabulous post!

  4. Sam 27/06/2013 at 1:27 pm #

    Ian – It was in fact written by me rather than Andreas, just a little glitch in the publishing (likewise the picture confusion) – both should be corrected later one :)

    Thanks for the kind comments, glad the format was appealing!

    • Andreas 27/06/2013 at 5:40 pm #

      This is Sam’s excellent piece and I’m looking forward to publishing his item on keeping your feet dry soon (I’m told the Ride Across Britain was the perfect testing ground for that!)

  5. Simon Wilcox 27/06/2013 at 6:20 pm #

    Great write up Sam and a pleasure to ride with you on RAB. For those thinking about it, may I add my voice – do it – it’s the most extraordinary adventure and you will return the better for it.

  6. Aran 27/06/2013 at 6:29 pm #

    What a great writeup! Agree with every sentiment. I did RAB in 2012 and it really was fantastic. Threshold do an amazing job. Well done on completing!

  7. Ian Hayhurst 27/06/2013 at 6:41 pm #

    Oops sorry Sam. It’s still good though!

  8. Alan Benham 27/06/2013 at 9:15 pm #

    Great write up Sam. Well done for completing the ride and for reminding me of what a great time I had!

  9. Stephen 27/06/2013 at 9:51 pm #

    hi Sam, well done for bringing me back in detail to all the wonderful experiences of this challenge, as you’ve said so well – the organisation was truly remarkable and the support was amazingly consistent with the layers of helpfulness and encouragement from threshold. I spotted this ride advertised on this blog earlier last year – all I can say is thanks London Cyclist for the heads up! Do what I did, just book and do it! 10 miles to work and back each day now feels like I haven’t even left the house!

    Stephen

  10. Carl Whitwell 27/06/2013 at 10:05 pm #

    Fantastic article, Sam. Am in awe and envious in equal measure.

  11. Padma 28/06/2013 at 12:50 pm #

    I loved the A-Z…it was a perfect way to allow me to peek into your ride. Was in awe and tickled oink in equal measure…well done! :)

  12. Rob McIvor 28/06/2013 at 2:14 pm #

    It certainly looks fun and I imagine doing E2E in a group would be much better than a solo trip (those Highland roads can get a bit desolate), but I had a look at the web site and was rather put off by the page after page of rules and the requirement to wear a “safety helmet”.

    • Simon Wilcox 28/06/2013 at 2:24 pm #

      By safety helmet they mean cycle helmet, required for two reasons, (a) you need to attach the timing chip to something; and (b) it’s my understanding that it’s a requirement of their insurance so whether or not you believe in the efficacy of helmets, no helmet, no ride !
      Having done the ride this year, in my opinion the organisation was a lot more chilled than the rules might imply.

    • Sam 28/06/2013 at 2:35 pm #

      Mostly down to the conditions of the events insurance I would think Rob. It certainly never affected my enjoyment of the ride this year. Helmet use is – whatever you think of it’s effectiveness etc – almost always ‘mandatory’ on large scale events such as this.

  13. GrahamL 29/06/2013 at 12:38 pm #

    Awesome. What a fantastic read. My fitness level and age (all poor excuses I know) wouldn’t allow me to even consider it without a lot of preparation but I can still dream about all the experiences I would cherish, not a the time due to tiredness etc etc but certainly afterwards.

    The thought of being removed from every day life frustrations and cycling with like minded people, the sights, the ups and downs (pun intended) must be a truly memorable event for all the right reasons. I can only guess how the emotions were running at the finish with tiredness, aches and pains and sheer elation on completing such a feat. A job well done.

  14. Luke 25/07/2013 at 11:36 pm #

    Hi Sam, it is a fantastic thing you have done. I just completed the London to Paris bike ride and I’m thinking Land’s End to John O’Groats and starting to race is a natural progression. What kind of fitness level do you have to possess for the ride across Britain?

  15. David 28/07/2013 at 3:18 pm #

    Hi Sam, congratulations on completing. I love the A-Z format it makes for a great write up. You captured the essence of the event perfectly. I did RAB this year too and loved the North to South route. It was a great “holiday” and I also achieved my E2E dream. I was expecting the south westerly winds thinking they would make it a bigger, better challenge. Luckily (haha) we had loads of rubbish weather before, so I managed get in some great poor weather training rides. It is worth mentioning that you get fitter as the ride continues – reaching peak fitness in time for the hills of the last 3 days to Lands End. Regarding Threshold – they are much more relaxed than the rules suggest and the work the crew puts in behind the scenes is immense. Nothing is too much trouble and they are inspiring in their support along the way. I’d recommend doing E2E with them to anyone and I hope to go South to North (to complete the set) with them in the future.

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