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IBA End to End Gold/ LDR 1500

For Summer 2010 I had been planning to complete a long distance ride and had wanted to do something different as I had already decided this was going to be my last long distance ride for the forseeable future, for a variety of reasons including changes to my personal circumstances (we had recently found out we have twins on the way, due around the beginning of the new year). I had made several plans to complete an SS3000 but it became increasingly clear I was not going to be able to commit the time, especially as I had a marriage to arrange for the end of August. Then speaking to my friend Margaret Peart, who is an Australian from Tasmania making her way around the world, she mentioned she wanted to complete an IBA ride in Europe and would like to do an End to End Gold (E2EG). We spoke about it and it seemed like a good idea to accompany her - at least we would keep each other going and make sure we made it!


I had also previously looked at the E2EG route. Whereas a standard End to End involves travelling between Lands End in Cornwall and John O'Groats in Scotland by the shortest route (around 834 miles), certification for a Gold route demands that you travel 1000 miles between these two points. The standard variation is to go via Clacket Lane services on the M25 to the south of London and then around the M25 before heading north. This is nearly all motorways, travelling on which is of course inherently unimaginative and boring, so I had devised a different route which involved riding on no motorways whatsoever. However Margaret was not sure about it and I had to admit Autoroute was anticipating a journey time of around 23 hours to complete the route, and since the weather forecast was not very encouraging we agreed on the standard route, collecting receipts from Gordano services on the M5, Clacket Lane, Wetherby on the A1(M) and then Gleneagles on the A9. Given what we were to experience it was a sound decision!


The first problem with an End to End ride is that you have to start from one end or the other. Margaret had come back from Iceland a few days before and made her way from Denmark across the south of England and had camped near Lands End by the weekend. We had initially planned to leave on Sunday evening around 8pm but I was hoping to bring this forward as I had to be home in time to go to the hospital for Stacey's 20 week scan at midday on Tuesday. I checked over the GS on Saturday morning and took the rear tyre down to Wheelhouse Tyres in Coleshill to get it replaced as it was nearly down to the limit marks and I didn't think it would last the distance. They did not have a Metzeler Tourance in stock but fitted a Michelin Anakee - first impressions have been that if anything it feels better than the Tourance - have to see if it lasts as well. Sunday morning dawned bright with blue skies and a fresh wind blowing. I left home around 8.35 and stopped a few miles down the road at Corley Services to fill up with fuel. I also got a witness for the start form for the LDR King of the Road - 1500 miles in 36 hours which I though it would be likely I would complete even if we did not get to John O'Groats.


The blue skies lasted for the first 260 miles as I headed south west down the M42, M5 and then A30. Once past Devon it started to cloud over and get a little colder. I was pleased to see that the road coming out of Cornwall was pretty free of traffic, as the main reason for leaving later was because of the possible amount of traffic on the A30 coming out of Cornwall. After exactly 300 miles I got to Margaret's campsite in Sennen around 1.20pm. We sat around drinking tea and chatting about her trip before packing up her tent and heading down to Lands End to complete our start paperwork and gain a start receipt. We parked up in front of the Lands End signs and got our papers signed by a guy and his son from Bristol - he was wearing a Superbikes t-shirt so looked a likely possibility. We had a chat about what we were doing before heading off to get out paper stamped in the Lands End hotel and then buying a Lands End sticker so we could get a receipt. The time on this was 15:28 which would be our official start time.  Returning to the bikes we had our photographs taken - I looked up at the sign and remembered how terrible I felt the last time I was here, on my SS2000 run two years before. I had arrived here at 11pm in the pouring rain, cold and wet through with another 300 miles still to go to get home: surely we would have better luck this time, wouldn't we?


We left Lands End and headed across Cornwall and into Devon on the A30. The weather was bright although overcast and the traffic was fairly light, especially for this road so we made good time to Exeter where we joined the M5 heading north. We arrived at our first stop, Gordano Services just south of Bristol and got a fuel receipt at 18:29, almost exactly three hours from leaving the start and having covered 203 miles according to my speedometer. Everything was going fine, and although I had already ridden over 500 miles that day I felt fine.


We continued north and then turned east onto the M4 towards London. I remembered how many times I had ridden this route in the past, when I used to work as a despatch rider out of Cardiff in the mid 1980s, and must have gone to London several times a week for 18 months. I could recall all the motorway services in order: Aust, Leigh Delamere, Membury, Heston - but found there were several new ones now, including Swindon, Chieveley and Reading. Indeed it was my supposed knowledge of the services which was to cause me problems. It had started raining around Swindon, but only lightly. As we got nearer London it became heavier and harder to see, especially through my dark visor. I anticipated stopping at Heston to change my visor and get into my waterproof oversuit (the waterproofing of the Aerostich is not what it was after 8 years of wear). However, as well as building several new service stations they had also built the M25 since I had last travelled this way - we had to turn on to the M25 and the services at Heston were after the turning, so no chance of stopping. I was thinking about this so hard I was surprised by the speed with which the traffic came to a standstill on the sliproad between the two motorways and almost had to undertake an emergency stop to avoid hitting the car in front.


As we headed around London on the orbital motorway the rain became harder, much harder and it all went dark very quickly. The traffic was moving slowly in fits and starts, leaving us to filter carefully until we got past some cars which were stationary in the outside lane after a coming together. I could feel that my suit was wetting out and was very pleased to see the sign for the services at Clacket Lane, where we stopped for our second receipt. We dripped into the services and felt we deserved something to eat and drink, however the only food available looked distinctly unappetising so we settled for a mug of coffee and a few of my homemade flapjacks. I also chenged my visor and put my oversuit over my distinctly damp Aerostich.


I had checked the forecast each day for several days before we left and while I thought we would not be able to avoid rain completely it had looked like it might be drier north of London - this was not to be the case. I heard later that this was the heaviest rain they had had in the capital all year, and it was certainly lashing down as we fuelled up and headed back out onto the road. Our recipt time was 21:51 and we had covered 354 miles - just about a third of the way there with six and a half hours gone.


After going through the Dartford Tunnel (the only time we were not being rained on for the next ten hours) we joined the M11, following the sign for 'The North'. I had recently begun reading Stuart Maconie's book 'Pies and Prejudices' and it reminded me of where he talks about the way the in which we speak about the north, for example about how the BBC has a 'north of England correspondent' but never a 'south of England' counterpart. I tried to remember if there are signs for 'The South' as well if you are heading in the opposite direction, but expect they just say 'London'.


Lots of red lights ahead showed the traffic was slowing and coming to a halt. We had a couple of miles of filtering to get through to reach the front of the queue of traffic. Margaret found this a lot harder as the Touratech panniers on her V-Strom made the bike a lot wider than mine. When we got to the front, the road was still blocked by fire engines, police cars, ambulances and two cars which had obviously hit each other and spun on the greasy road. The people in the second car were just being out in an ambulance and we then had to wait while the police pulled the cars onto the hard shoulder and the firemen washed the road down.


After clearing the accident we continued north on the A1(M), passing another group of smashed up cars near Grantham as it continued to rain. We stopped at the Wetherby services on the A1 and this time did eat something,  the only thing on offer was a cooked breakfast so that is what we had. Unsurprisingly we were the only two people there apart from those serving behind the counter. Before heading off again I put on my heated vest as it was getting decidedly colder. We fuelled up again - 02:31, with 595 miles gone, meaning we were over half way there after 11 hours on the road from Lands End.


After passing Richmond we turned off the A1 and west on the A66, across the Pennines and through the towns of Bowes and Brough. Reaching Penrith we joined the M6 heading north and past Carlisle where the motorway becomes the A74(M) and England becomes Scotland. It gradually became lighter as we got nearer to Glasgow which we bypassed on the M73, and then went past Stirling on the M80 before taking the A9 towards Perth.


Shortly after this Margaret pulled alongside to indicate she was running low on fuel and we stopped at the next petrol station, at Gleneagles near Auchterarder. I wasn't sure if this was the same Gleneagles where they play that funny game with sticks and balls but think it might be (checked later and it is). It was now 06:39 and we had covered 843 miles and were three-quarters of the way there after 15 hours. I had also completed over 1000 miles in the last 22 hours and I tried to work out how many times I had ridden this distance in less than 24 hours - I counted this as the eleventh time.


At some time in the next 5 hours it stopped raining but I can't remember when exactly. I just know by the time we reached Wick it was dry. We had continued to make steady progress, only being held up by another accident, this time after the bridge crossing at Tain, and by a short detour we had taken just before reaching Inverness, to visit the battlefield site at Culloden. I had intended to visit five battlefields on the way home but was not sure if I would be coming this way so thought it would be easier to go there now and have a photograph in the bag.


At Wick we stopped for fuel at the 24 hour Tescos. Margaret went off to the store to find a cashpoint machine while I took my pannier and seat off to try and find out why my heated vest and inner soles had stopped working. I found the fuse had blown and replaced it to regain warmth. From there it was only 15 miles to the end of our ride at John O'Groats. We pulled up outside the Journeys End Cafe and went inside out of the driving wind to down a well deserved coffee and bacon sandwich. The lady behind the counter signed our finish paperwork and we made an entry in the finishers' book at the cafe. We then went in search of a second witness and found both this and a finish receipt (for a sticker to match the one we had bought at Lands End) in the gift shop, where there was also a finishers' book. The time was 11:55 (although our receipt read 11:35, but our Wick receipt was 11:39!) so we had ridden for 20 hours and 27 minutes and my odometer read 1106 miles (1044 on the GPS) covered.


It had started raining again so we decided to head back to Inverness - while I was heading home via my battlefields Margaret was going to visit some friends near Aberdeen so this would be the parting of our ways. I had not been very successful at riding with other people in the past but this ride had gone really well (apart from the weather) - we had ridden well together and I had enjoyed it (apart from the weather!). In Inverness we stopped at the first cafe we found in the town, a YMCA cafe, and had another coffee, this time with an egg sandwich. We arranged to meet up again at the end of the week when Margaret was coming down to attend my wedding before heading off in our different directions.