“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
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!