Day 4: Bristol -> A&E

The day started so well.

A sunny brunch (avocado toast and coffee). A gentle walk around Bristol. A short trip over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Today was gonna be a great day.


Lisa and I cruised along the road out of Bristol chatting in the sun. I had opened her eyes to the joy of cycling! Though we had some miles to put in through an industrial estate (with a few brief stints on a cycle path), it would all be worth it once we hit the quiet country roads of Wales. We even got to see the bridge we’d be crossing in the distance! 

And then, one minute I was freewheeling downhill, the next I was lying face down at the side of the road, my bike a few feet away, in quite some discomfort. 

As I lay there, coming to my senses and trying to mentally register the damage, a white van did a U-turn and stopped to help, phoning an ambulance. Well, fuck. 


I had come down pretty hard on my left side, particularly on my wrist and shoulder, and I guess I was in shock as I couldn’t stop shaking. I surveyed my belongings and realised I’d cracked my helmet. Lisa, who was behind me, arrived and tried to calm me down as I answered questions over the phone. When I asked her if there were any deformities to my face, she replied with, ‘None, apart from the obvious.’ At this stage the white van driver and his colleague laughed uncomfortably as they didn’t realise we knew each other. When they found out that we were in fact friends, and I was off the phone, they left us to wait for the paramedics.

“Lisa. I can’t feel my face. Or my left arm. What if I’m having a heart attack?”

“You do know you landed in a pile of stinging nettles, you dumbass.”

I did not. Just super. 

We waited for nearly 2 hours before I ended up phoning again, only to find out they had no record of the previous call, and an ambulance was eventually dispatched. I assumed they’d just clean me up and check me over, but when they arrived they wanted to take me in for an X-ray on my wrist, as I couldn’t move it without sharp pains running the length of my arm. When we told them we were about to cycle into Wales they toyed with the idea of taking me to a hospital there, but couldn’t really justify it. So back to Bristol we went, with bikes safely strapped in.


Instead of a pleasant afternoon in the Welsh countryside, we spent about 4 hours in A&E to confirm there were no breaks, just a bad sprain, amongst some of Bristol’s finest drugged criminals and law enforcement officers. As it was Pride weekend, we had to shell out an extortionate amount for likely one of the last available hotel rooms (a disabled room)  which we got to around 11pm. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and the only thing nearby was a KFC, so we filled up on boneless chicken pieces, I had a bitch of a shower, and we went to bed.

“I’m so glad I hired a bike and hauled it miles away from the comfort of my home to enjoy this experience with you, Rachel. Best holiday ever.”

The following morning, it was apparent that I was not going to be riding any significant distance on my wrist, and I decided to return to London with Lisa. We left the hotel before 09:00 and arrived at her flat roughly 12 hours later having dragged our bikes several miles around two cities. Thankfully, we decided to treat ourselves to a refreshment in Regent’s Park on the way to enjoy the summer sun, and we ordered sushi, watched shit TV, and re-organised her bedroom to continue the theme of ‘crappiest holiday weekend’ (but secretly I enjoyed that). 

Bristol – before everything went wrong


As I write, I am on the sleeper train back to Scotland. As a glass half full kinda girl, I’m hoping a couple of days might be enough to allow me to ride my bike again, in which case I’ll aim to complete some of the Scottish leg. However, I might take my road bike, and I’ll definitely pack light. I should probably get a new helmet too…

Day 3: Taunton -> Bristol 

I hold my hands up, the cheating continued. Plans with Lisa were rejigged to accommmodate unaccommodating train options, and we decided to meet in Bristol instead. This would mean a mammoth journey from Plymouth on my part, so I caught the train to Taunton to travel the more manageable 60-ish miles towards Bristol. 

I arrived just after 10am and set off on one of the national cycle routes. Traffic free and following a canal for several miles towards Bridgewater before cutting off onto quiet country lanes on my original planned route.  If motivation was zero after the Cornish hills, it skyrocketed today. Warm but pleasant temperatures and flat cycling to begin were fabulous. The air was thick with humidity so close to the water and it reminded me of Arkansas summers visiting my grandmother. As I was cycling along, the ground flickered and rose into clouds of dragonflies that disappeared as quickly as they were startled, and I smiled despite the kamikaze bugs meeting their demise on my face.

Once onto quiet lanes, the route became more undulating, and I opted to lunch in Glastonbury. I wanted to get a photo of the quaint English high street, but the police were in the middle of raiding a hotel full of squatters, and that really didn’t lend itself to a stunning photo op, so I set off again towards Wells and the bitching climb that followed. 

Before too long I could see Bristol on the horizon and managed to safely reach our hotel, despite dicing with death briefly on the motorway. Thankfully rush hour traffic meant the cars were going slower than I was, otherwise I’d likely have panicked and phoned for roadside assistance. 


I prioritised with a beer before checking in and grabbing a shower to await Lisa before we hit up a local Caribbean joint for dinner and checked out some live jazz along the waterfront. 


Tomorrow we venture into Wales, and I anticipate a bit of exploration in our village destination before a beer in a local pub!

Day 2: Eden Project -> Plymouth 

With a little cheating. Plymouth was not my end goal today, but sometimes you have to roll with it. 

So I didn’t mention, but last night, a few miles from my hostel, I was climbing up a busy A-road into St Austell, and I was a little uneasy with the amount of (fast) traffic flying by. Before I knew it, a sidewalk materialised to my left, and I thought ‘Bonus! I’m getting in on that action!’ A little brain  dead  from exhaustion, I attempted to bunny hop up onto the curb, forgetting the fact that I was steering a fucking tank. It was very quickly established that I could not, in fact, bunny hop something that, all in, probably weighs about half what I do. Face? Meet sidewalk. 

I shook it off once I’d made sure all bleeding was superficial, and made it to the hostel, putting it firmly in the past. Until this morning, when I was faced with a steep climb as soon as I set off. On day one the easiest gear was pretty much unusable, but (reluctantly) I managed on the second easiest for the climbs. Today, the second easiest kept jumping, and the third easiest was unreliable at best. With 20+ miles of undulating road on the menu, I decided to cut my losses and seek out the nearest train station. I told myself if there was a bike space to Plymouth, I’d take it. If not? Well, that was fate giving me the middle finger.

To my surprise, there was one spot left, and I handed over my £6.80 with a Cheshire smile. Once the train arrived, I loaded my bike into the store … and then caught my arm on the door lock on the way out. 

So much blood

During the journey I essentially bled all over myself to avoid sullying the interior of the train, and hit up a pharmacy at my earliest convenience once I’d disembarked. What followed was a trip to the bike mechanic, who fixed me up free of charge, the post office (where I sent unnecessary items back to Scotland), and a late lunch. 

A box of mistakes


By this point it was about 6,000 degrees, so I decided to just hang out in Plymouth and be a tourist. As well as do some washing, because stale sweat is grim.


Tomorrow, Bristol beckons, but right now it’s bedtime for me. Touristing in the sun is draining!

Day 1: Land’s End -> Eden Project 

The title is slightly misleading, as I actually began in Penzance and gained ten ‘bonus miles’ for shits and giggles. From Land’s End I retraced my steps, so after 20 miles of cycling I was right back where I’d started. In case you were wondering how motivational that was, I can clear up that mystery. Not at all. 


Thankfully, pathetic fallacy was in the air, and the sunshine, blue skies, gentle butterflies, fragrant flowers, and nature and shit helped lift my spirits, which is just as well as this section was billed by Sarah (LeJog conquerer) as the toughest stint. I don’t have anything to compare it to at this stage, but I’m inclined to agree. 

Gross


The hills were unrelenting and plentiful, and the flats were downright non-existent. On a road bike it would have been rough enough, but when you’re hauling a 7 tonne (perhaps a slight exaggeration) uphill, to start to think maybe you’d welcome death.

When you don’t pay full attention to things, you can occasionally get a pleasant surprise. Today, on weary legs, it became apparent that I had incorporated a ferry crossing into my route, which provides a pleasant 20 minute enforced break. 


The final miles ticked by at a painfully slow pace, but eventually I snaked up a narrow road just after St. Austell to a backpackers’ hostel near the Eden Project. After a shower, some dinner, and some homemade food I’m feeling a little more chipper about what tomorrow will bring. Or I’m drunk. Potato, po-tah-to.

Day minus-1

Goodnight Scotland!

If you thought cycling the entire length of Britain was going to be the only demanding part of the trip, you’d only be forgiven if you’ve never dealt with relying on public transport. Though the sleeper train went without a hitch, when I went to collect my pre-paid tickets in London they were churned out of the machine. Without a bike reservation. Despite the fact that I specifically booked over the phone (I couldn’t see an option to reserve a bike space online) and was assured no less than 5 times during the course of said phone conversation that I DEFINITELY had a bike space reserved. 

Good morning London!

I was less than impressed when the teller at the information desk told me, when I explained my situation, that it was, “a bit last minute to try and reserve a bike space for a train today.” Motherfucker, I booked it weeks ago. Before the conversation could get too heated, it was resolved, and I had 5 hours to kill in London. 

Naturally, because I’m efficient, I had already set up a tinder breakfast date, and he met me at the station at 09:30. We decided to just wander the streets nearby until we stumbled across somewhere that looked good, and casually walked past Noel Gallagher en route to scrambled eggs on toast (me) and blueberry pancakes (him). From there, he walked me to my friend Lisa’s work, where we parted ways, and I spent an hour in the sun sipping orange juice with my friend. 

Lisa is due to join me in Glastonbury this Friday in order to cycle into Wales on the Saturday. I was giving her a hand by writing an itemised list of everything she’d need. I think she’ll struggle with the “packing light” aspect, but I’m looking forward to the company on the road! 

With American blood running through my veins, it would be downright blasphemous not to celebrate the 4th of July by sinking a cold beer, so after the interminable train journey to Penzance, that was priority number one, after checking into the Backpackers’ hostel. A shower is probably on the cards as well, considering nobody was willing to sit next to me during the latter stages of the journey… Nothing but luxury for this girl. 

Land’s End – John O’ Groats

“To live is the rarest thing in the world.  Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde

I don’t think I’d raise any eyebrows if I said I am on board with making bad decisions and throwing myself at them completely.  They don’t always work out the way I’d intended, but flexibility seems to be one of my strong points (except in the context of yoga).  After all, as Oscar Wilde would say, ‘experience is simply the name we give our mistakes’.  And I’m all about making mistakes.

Armed with a little more wisdom after my short stint along the NC500, I decided not too long ago that I’d like to cycle from Land’s End to John O’ Groats – a classic touring achievement that would command respect and adulation from my cycling friends.   Instead, when I began telling people of my summer plans, I got responses such as:

‘Your funeral.’ – Roz

‘Ha.’ – Sarah, who cycled LeJoG last year with her partner

‘You’d better be back in time for my wedding.’ – Ronnie

‘Can you give someone my cell number so they can contact me if you’re in an accident?  I obviously won’t be able to do much, but at least I’ll know.’ – my mom

lejog

I find brass tacks planning a real chore, unlike my father who is a spreadsheet fiend, so my first step was to book the overnight train to London with a bike reservation.  Once the initial seed is planted, I tend to find I’m committed, and plans branch off from there.  I’m actually rather impressed at my organisation so far, because I’ve managed to arrange accommodation for all but 2 nights on my 14 day adventure, thanks, in part, to a chance tinder encounter who suggested I check out a site called warmshowers.org (You guys all use tinder to talk about bikes, right?).  Warm Showers is essentially billed as a ‘free worldwide hospitality exchange for cyclists’.  You can search an interactive map for people who are willing to open their home to you while you’re touring, offering anything from a spot in their garden to pitch your tent to a bed and a family meal.  And, obviously, you are expected to reciprocate when you can.

When I explained the premise to friends, the standard response seemed to be, “You’re going to be raped.  Or murdered.  Or both. You know that, right?”  Such a scathing, heart-breaking view of humanity.  I prefer to think of it as an opportunity to meet new people, get insider recommendations on places to see and things to do, and, though obvious, I would be remiss to omit the fact that it is totally free, which very much appeals to someone on a tight budget.  That person being me.

I made my account and fired away some e-mails to an overwhelming sense of welcoming from everyone I got in touch with.  In addition to the homes of strangers, I’ll be recovering in backpackers’ bunks, youth hostels, and – where none of the previous options were available – a B&B.

Averaging about 70 miles a day, I am hoping to complete the trip in two weeks.  This should allow me (hopefully) sufficient time to recover after each day, but I guess the only way of knowing is to just go and do it.  I’m celebrating Independence Day evening in a hostel in Penzance, having a cold beer and preparing to set off early on the 5th.  Because I am a strong, capable, independent, [insert more stereotypical adjectives here] woman.  I’m doing this largely alone (my friend Lisa is joining me on Day 4 from Glastonbury to Monmouth, despite zero previous distance cycling experience), but am hoping I might get some familiar company once I make it back up to Scotland.  If I make it that far.  I mean, last time I tried something like this I went blind.

Thankfully, I’ve managed to shift a rotten sore throat almost definitely picked up from an infected child during the final week of term, and I have sensibly had a restful weekend by attempting bouldering on Saturday and climbing a mountain yesterday.  What could possibly go wrong?

Let’s go make mistakes!