6.20am. Just outside Alness. Turn right and we would drop down to the A9 – the duller but flatter main road to the North-east. Turn left and we would face one more major climb, but cycle through pine forests, amongst kestrels and red kites, immersed once again in spectacular landscapes unique to the far North of Scotland.
Every single rider instantly voted for the left turn. Even on the last day, facing a 113-mile ride to reach John o’Groats, with weary bodies dragged out of bed at 5am for one more day.
That group decision summed up the KPS1000 team. If you’d asked us a week earlier, many would have voted for the flatter, faster route to make progress. Now we were long-distance cyclists – prepared to throw in yet another climb just to eke the most out of the experience.
We were rewarded with a fantastic first two hours to contemplate what we had achieved. The landscape that far north is truly staggering. The traffic non-existent. The cycling unique.
Later in the day we had no alternative to the A9. But by then there were sea cliffs, stiff climbs and soaring descents, a clifftop café and roll into Lybster – the location of “Cornah’s Corner” (the home village of former KPS headmaster Marcus Cornah) which had been our KPS1000 goal. But almost all of us were pushing on to John o’Groats, a further 30 miles, in order to complete the End-to-End.
Those last 30 miles seemed to go on forever. A ruler-straight road, bleak moorland and from nowhere a barreling headwind, plus a sea mist that brought the temperatures plummeting down.
There were barely any words exchanged for those last miles. Each rider alone with their thoughts, straining sinews, head down, contemplating what the ride meant to them.
What did it mean? At the last count we have raised more than £12,000 for the Bath RUH cancer care campaign. Four of us have cycled 985 miles in 9 days, travelling the length of Britain from Land’s End to John o’Groats. Two more have cycled 755 miles in 7 days to join us from Bath onwards. For all of us, as for John who rode the first and last days with us, and Juliet, Simon, Sally, Bob, Cathy, Paul, Philip T, Alastair, who rode the first day with us, it has been a huge personal achievement. The culmination of a significant amount of planning, training and fund-raising. And an extraordinary chance to see Britain from the saddle.
I can’t claim to speak for everyone in the team, but my own views might be echoed by those I rode with. It was a personal journey, made worthwhile by joint endeavour. I feel proud to have ridden with some extraordinary people, people I barely knew when I set out but who I am now honoured to call my friends.
The last word should lie with Ernest Hemingway (always): “It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle.”
Day 9: Alness to John o’Groats: 113 miles; 6440 vertical feet ascent