The Journey to Lands End – Emma Whitehouse
I started this journey in 2019, and was one of the first people to register to do Ride Across Britain – Land’s End to John O’Groats. I had decided I needed a challenge for my 50th year and this was going to be it.
First, a bit about me and how I go to today, I am now 50, married, no children but two crazy working cocker spaniels and I work full time in Human Resources. In my spare time when I am not cycling, I am a Breeze Champion and Co-Event Director of the Dudley parkrun.
I got into cycling back in 2014 after 6 months of inactivity having torn my achilles tendon. I had a £300 hybrid Halfords bike and started my rehabilitation cycling up and down the local canal paths but soon got bored and on a whim, decided to buy a road bike….. My first road bike cost about £800 and a Giant AL. I felt like a toddler trying to ride it and came off learning to ride with SPD SL’s.
My first ever sportive was the Birmingham Bikeathon, and at 26 miles, I couldn’t have been more proud of myself after 6 months of 2014 being written off through injury.
The following year, I entered a few more sportives, completed my first 100 mile ride and I upgraded my bike to a Carbon Liv Avail. I also bought myself a mag turbo trainer so I could still cycle in the winter months. I also entered the ballot to take part in Ride London, which both myself and my husband got a place in. At this point I had starting running again and the bike took a bit of back seat, whilst I completed a variety of 10k and some half marathons.
My hubby and I completed Ride London in 2017, an awesome event in which we raised £2500 for the Macmillan Trust.
Anyway, as I said, I signed up in September 2019 and in that year, I managed 4000 miles on Strava before setting myself a challenge to get to 8000 in 2020. Sadly, Covid hit and wiped away all the sportives/training rides I had planned along with taking part in RAB. I moped around for about a week and then thought, ‘Emma, get your arse into gear’. I was lucky I had my Wattbike Atom so I joined every challenge possible and became a woman on a mission to get my Iron Bike, and complete all the routes on Zwift. I took part in the Rapha Festive 500 managing to hit my target of 8000 miles for 2020, as well as getting my Tron (fastest bike on Zwift earned climbing 49,950 metres) and completing all the routes on Zwift.
It was in early 2021, I was introduced to AEO,(Emma’s visual racing team on Zwift Racing League) Ness and Tracy had set up a RAB Zwifters group and were doing regular Wednesday rides which I started to join on Zwift and Ness encouraged me to join AEO. I felt so strong at the beginning of 2021, and surprised myself by coming 2nd in an Individual TT event. I enjoyed racing with the Chica’s (out team name), learning how to draft and use the gamification of Zwift which 2 years on has still escaped me! I still can’t draft that well………
Sadly, my health was suffering and I took some time out from racing to get myself right and also needed to focus on endurance ready to take on RAB LEJOG. The dreaded menopause was taking its toll but since starting HRT, I have started to feel much better. I am so proud to be part of the AEO family, it has a great culture, really supportive and also the kit is the best both on and off Zwift. I am, therefore, looking forward to racing again in the autumn.
So here I am sat in our Campervan at Lands End, having unpacked and checked my bag and bike several times, trying to relax before getting ready to join camp this afternoon and I start my bike adventure tomorrow.
Friday 3rd September 2021
On the 3rd September, my husband dropped me off at Lands End with my bike and bags. The sun was shining and I was nervous but glad that the day had finally arrived, almost 2 years after I first entered!
I entered the RAB – LEJOG, originally, as a solo rider, however, I went into the event as a group of 7, known as ‘The Peakies’. I was also part of a much wider group called the RAB Zwifters. Although Covid -19 had disrupted all my plans, it brought me together with lots of people I had met in real life and virtually though the forums. As I stood to check in, I saw my fellow Peakies, which put me at ease. My bike was taken to the bike racks and after being allocated my tent, No 51 Red, I dragged my heavy bag to find it which was in the furthest field away! I unpacked, set up my bed and sorted out my kit ready for the morning before heading down, with my team, to the legendary sign for a group photo. It was then time to fuel and listen to the kick off briefing before trying to get some sleep!
Saturday 4th September 2021
Lands End to Okehampton – 105.6 miles 8,236 ft of climbing it should have been – ended up 110 miles and 9766ft of Climbing with the diversion – Warm with sunnier intervals by afternoon.
Ave Speed 11.8 mph.
17 notable climbs.
I was awake before my alarm went off at 4.45am, deflated my airbed and rolled my sleeping bag up before I headed off to grab breakfast, trying to beat the queues. Breakfast over, it was back to the tent to put my kit on and pack my bag, take it to the lorry before finding my bike and get her ready for the off.
I headed towards the start at around 6.15 with the rest of the team ready for a 6.30am start. I saw my husband just as I got over the line and said farewell as we headed off towards Penzance and St Michael’s Mount. With it being early. it was still a little grey, however that soon changed. Pitstop one was at Bissoe, just before Truro and that was the first 35+ miles done. From Truro we headed out on some narrow, steep lanes with some sharp bends to make our way to Lanhydrock. As we passed, there was gridlock where hundreds of cyclist’s had started to congregate as an air ambulance was seen. We were held up for a good 40 minutes and all left wondering if it was it one of ours, are they okay etc. We were then rerouted, having to turn around and retrace our steps for a few miles but soon, we seemed to be on a never ending road to get to pitstop 2 at Doublebois which was a very welcome site. We had been told to keep some reserves for the last section, as they had described it, as the section towards the Minions and then to Launceston as “grippy’ it was along the old A30. I was so glad to see a petrol station towards the end, and brought a Calipo ice-lolly which revived me and spurred me to the finish line, much later than I had wanted due to the diversion and also supporting a couple of riders in our group who had struggled in the heat.
After finishing, my bike was dropped back to the bike rack, removed all the chargeable stuff from it, go and collect my bags, find my tent, unpack, pump up my airbed, roll out my sleeping bag, queue for shower, eat, listen to the briefing for the next day and recall the days events, before heading to the tent, getting everything ready for the morning and hoping for some sleep!
It really was going to be a case of “Eat, Ride, Camp, Sleep, Repeat’ but for 9 days with some “Eats” factored into the rides…..
Sunday 5th September 2021
Okehampton to Bath – 113.9 Miles 7,451ft of Climbing – 21 degrees and Sunny Intervals
Ave Speed 12.3mph
12 Notable Climbs
Deja Vu – Alarm went off but had little sleep again, same routine as before and ready to set off at around 6.30am.
We headed out of basecamp towards Bampton, savouring the rolling Devon hills through Coleford and particularly after Crediton as we picked up the River Exe in Bickleigh prior to our first pitstop at Bampton Football Club at around 38 miles. I was finding that as we were having breakfast so early, I needed to eat on the way to the first pitstop to keep myself topped up.
I knew that we had the climb of Cothelstone to do, an average incline of 6% but with a max gradient of 23.8% just after passing through Wiveliscombe, Hulse and Bishops Lydeard. I was determined to get up this one all the way and I accomplished with a bit of Eminem in my ear and a great Deloitte welcome at the top. There was a lovely decent from Cothelstone down through Enmore as it took us on the way to Bridgwater.
The Somerset levels were a joy and took us to our second pitstop at East Huntspill. As we approached the next hill, the iconic ascent of Cheddar Gorge which was busy with tourists on a sunny Sunday, we had to keep our eyes open! After that climb, the roads flattened out and there was a great gentle but fast descent off the Mendips down towards Chewton Mendip and Farrington Gurney. The last 15 miles had been described as on the ‘grippy’ side, as you skirt around Radstock and Midsomer Norton prior to the climb up onto Combe Down. The new route then took us down the Wells Way with great views over the City. Our route took us through the centre of Bath with its amazing architecture before leaving the city on the London Road towards Batheaston and the last obstacle of the day being the climb up Bannerdown Hill with an average 7% climb to the basecamp at the top. That was just cruel, but again never got off my bike and walked!
Day 2 cycling completed but back to the routine from yesterday.
Monday 6th September 2021
Bath to Ludlow – 94.3 Miles – 5318ft of climbing – 25 degrees and Misty turning to hot!
Ave Speed – 13.2mph
11 Notable Climbs
This was always going to be a special day, as my family were coming to meet me at Ludlow, so I was super excited, despite the lack of sleep starting to kick in!
A slightly later start time of 7am due to the lower mileage but to be honest my body clock was still awake at 4.30am. It was a misty start as we headed out on our journey to the Severn Bridge which was a real shame. On the way to the bridge we passed a number of lovely quaint South West Cotswold Villages such as Marshfield and Tormarton before dropping into the Vale of the River Severn before crossing the Iconic old Severn Bridge via the cycle path. We stopped for some misty photos before proceeding to the first pitstop just below Chepstow Castle.
We then headed towards the River Wye and, after a bit of a climb, we descended to a very welcome site, an ice cream van. They must have made a fortune that day! Climbing away from the River Wye, the route passed through the Forest of Dean, offering great views back across the River Severn via St Briavels and Coleford before a great descent back to the river at Lydbrook on the way to the historic market town of Ross on Wye. We stopped briefly in Ross to get some more water and then, as we passed through Brampton, one of the most special roads on the entire RAB route, we cycled along a breathtaking route along the River Severn. I was quite tempted to stop for a paddle, however, I wanted to catch up with the guys at the 2nd pitstop so pushed on. It was roasting at this point and everyone was seeking the shade.
After the pitstop in Fownhope, the ride was more mellow as we skirted to the East of Hereford through Leominster and on to Ludlow Racecourse. Coming towards Ludlow and the familiar site of the domes on the Clee Hill, and the fact my family were waiting for me spurred me on and I sped up. The route to the racecourse foxed me a little as we came from a different angle. It even surprised my hubby as I wizzed past him at the finish. Take two as I had to cross the finish line again so he could video it! It was soo nice to see my family, hubby had brought me a lovely raspberry and lemon tart which I devoured and I also off loaded quite a bit of kit to him to try and make my bag lighter!
Same routine as before at the end of day 3, however I ended up taking someone else’s heavy bag back to my tent, only having to return it and take mine back! I also did use my massage gun on my legs and my backside was starting to get a bit sore…..
Tuesday 7th September 2021
Ludlow to Haydock – 106.7 miles 3,180ft of climbing – 27 degrees and sunny
Ave Speed – 14.7mph
1 Notable Climb!
Well after another night of little sleep, ducks, sheep, owls goodness knows they seem to be having a party at 2am!
It was another 7am misty start, that started with laughter as John had forgotten his gloves so the team crew improvised with a pair of gardening gloves with the fingers cut out! This was going to be our easiest day out of the 9 days with only 1 notable climb – we had 17 on day 1, but it was also going to be hot!
We had a nice gentle warm up along the quiet Shropshire lanes before the climb over the Wenlock Edge past Wilderhope Manor. After pitstop one at the Maurice Chandler Sports Centre, we picked up more quiet narrow Shropshire lanes towards Nantwich. On the way to the 2nd pitstop, we hopped onto the back of the Belgium Train and enjoyed a tow in their slipstream for around 15 miles before we then reached our 2nd pitstop which was on the right hand side of the road at Middlewich FC’s ground. We sat inside the shade which was welcomed, and they also had cold and hot drinks on sale 🙂
The last section took us onto the A50 bisecting Warrington and Manchester, which was a lot busier and unfortunately where one of our Peakies came off, shattering 14 of his spokes and injuring his shoulder. This delayed us whilst we waited for the mechanics to have a look and lend him a bike to finish on. As we were getting closer to Haydock, it was so warm but we spied a Sainsbury’s Local so ice lollies and Coke were brought to get us to the final destination of Haydock.
After 106 hot miles, it was a long walk around the race course to get to the tents, I opted for a cold shower which was heaven – we must have walked 5 miles back and forwards for tea etc. That night I didn’t feel great, I didn’t walk across to my tent until after 11pm as I was waiting for stuff to charge. I had heard that there seemed to be a bug going around, and one of our Peakies hadn’t been well either. So another night of very little sleep……….
Wednesday 8th September 2021
Haydock to Carlisle – 116.4 Miles – 5,538ft of Climbing – 27 degrees and Hot,Hot,Hot!
Ave Speed 13.4 mph
5 Notable Climbs
A long day in store so the start line opened at 6.30am, the lack of sleep was starting to kick in and I felt really off but managed to shovel some cornflakes and croissants down for breakfast.
Leaving Haydock racecourse, the route continued to pass through a number of more urban districts such as Chorley on the way towards Preston, so you had to keep focused as it was commuter time. The ride took us to the West of Preston as we used the Tom Benson Way in order to skirt Preston on our way to Barton Grange and pitstop 1.
After the pitstop, the scenery improved allowing views towards the Trough of Bowland to your right as we passed through Scorton and on towards Quernmore and The Bridge of Lune. Climbing away from the River Lune, we could see across to Blackpool Tower, over the Fylde Coast to the left. We then continue North with the mighty Lake District rising around us.
We reached Milnthorpe, which was our 2nd pitstop of the day and we had now reached half way 🙂 again with some photos being taken! On the way towards Kendal we passed a house that had put the hose pipe on to cool us down and wow that was amazing! As we entered Kendal, we stopped for an ice lolly at a Garage and the guy said it was showing 30 degrees in his car! We took a deep breath before set off again on the steady climb of Shap Fell, which kept rising at a steady pace and as we hit the pitstop, we were greeted by flags and bells ringing. I stopped to take a photo and just burst into tears, I think the lack of sleep was starting to catch me up. I took some video and waiting for John before enjoying the descent towards Shap Village with the last push Northwards through Penrith and on towards the Carlisle showground. Turning off the A6, the last couple of miles provided us with a little “sting in the tail” with a 5% climb up to the campsite!
My knee was feeling the miles so I did wait and see the Physios tonight who put my thighs through their paces and also applied some rock tape for support, as well as to my bruised backside!
Thursday 9th September 2021
Carlisle to Edinburgh – 105.3 miles, 4,144ft of climbing – 17 degrees so cooler which the chance of rain
Ave speed – 13.5 mph
1 Notable climb
It was a lot cooler and the red sky in the morning should have been a warning for what lay in store for us later on
A 7am start again and I think I may have had a little more sleep than the previous nights…….it was cooler and I think, in the end, I just crashed out!
Heading out north from Carlisle, we soon hit the Scottish Border and Gretna Green, for photo opportunities and we would then have some of the most dramatic scenery lying ahead of us.
I have to say that this was my least favourite day, the distances between each turn seemed like miles and the road surfaces were soo bumpy! pitstop one was at the Lockerbie lorry park. The queue for coffee seemed short so we joined it but by the time we got our drink, we needed to get a move on. The road we used was the old A74 which ran parallel to the A74(M), some of the views were amazing but I did find it a monotonous stretch.
Eventually we left the old A74 at Abington and head towards Edinburgh and the Lowther Hills stopping at the tiny village of Quothquan for pitstop 2, close to the River Clyde.
We cycled along some idyllic quiet lanes after passing through Carnwath towards Auchengray. Extra care was, however, needed as the route skirted the western side of Livingston where some busier roads were to be negotiated towards the end of the day when people were travelling home from work etc.
Just as we arrived at site it started to rain, but there was a coffee pop up that was selling cake – so I grabbed a Latte and a Biscoff cake after putting my bike components on charge before I then sorted all the usual camp malarkey out.
Friday 10th September 2021
Edinburgh to Strathdon – 112.3 miles, 7,332 ft of climbing, 18 degrees with light showers
Ave Speed 11.9 mph
11 Notable Climbs
Back to a 6.30am start, it was misty, murky and wet as we set off towards the Forth Road Bridge, I was gutted, it was a real pea souper so no point in stopping to take photo’s.
After crossing the Forth Road Bridge, we passed through Inverkeithing, Bridge of Kelty and headed towards Kinross. The first pitstop was a little longer to reach than usual at nearly 40 miles after passing through Perth itself as we ended up at Perth Racecourse. It was a great pitsop and after the rain, a warm cup of tea was welcomed, along with the traditional sounds of the Bagpipes. By this stage, the rain had knocked off and it was just overcast.
We joined the A939 and the route passed through Blairgowrie after running alongside the gorgeous River Tay for a time. Bridge of Cally and Spittal of Glenshee were the next places we passed through before the iconic climb of Glenshee on the way to the feedstation at the Ski Centre. It’s a long gradual climb that ramped up a tad at the end!
After the pitstops, I put on an extra layer for the descent down into Braemar which offered some stunning views. The route then followed the River Dee towards Craithie and Balmoral Castle. A left turn then took along some beautiful lanes with climbs but offered us incredible views at the top of wide-open hillsides. The decent was great and I can remember a 2CV tanking it up the climb almost on two wheels…… Sadly, coming off one of the descents, I caught a rock on my front wheel which gave me a puncture so we had to faff around replacing that which made us later into camp than I had wanted. I was shattered so decided to go eat after I had collected my bags, and go to the Physio as my knee was still tweaky and I wanted it re strapped. It started to rain again so I ended up not having a shower and just going to bed!
Saturday 11th September 2021
Strathdon – Kyle of Sutherland – 109.3 miles, 6,735ft of Climbing, 11 degrees wet in the morning with Brutal Winds in the afternoon
Ave speed 11 mph
9 Notable Climbs
I was woken up to the sound of pouring rain which wasn’t great to pack up my tent in, I headed off for breakfast and by the time we were due to start it had eased a little. I had decided to wear my long tights again as they worked well in the rain the day before. The ride left the Showground and we retraced our steps from yesterday alongside the River Don towards Corgarff and Cockbridge. Before I knew it, I was starting to climb the Lecht but it soon ramped up to around 20%! I stopped to catch my breath after the first steep section, and then decided I didn’t want to hurt my knee so I walked a small section and then got back on to finish the climb. Again, the Deloitte team were at the top with the Flags and Bells :). It was a wet descent so care was needed as we headed towards “Whiskey Country” and on towards Tomintoul. We then followed some lovely quiet roads with wide-open vistas, as the ride drops into Grantown on Spey for pitstop 1 of the day.
After leaving Grantown, we climbed steadily away from the River Spey towards Dava before we joined the amazingly quiet single-track roads towards Dulsie Bridge. The route then follows the National Cycle Network towards Inverness. We dropped down into Inverness after passing the Culloden Battlefield for the second pitstop of the day. It was cold so we didn’t hang around for very long and went in search of a hot drink.
The new route took us away from Inverness using the cyclepath alongside the Kessock Bridge. I absolutely hated crossing this bridge and it was probably the first time on the whole ride that I could have cried – the wind was buffering me, the drop was huge and although we were safely caged in on the cycle path, I just didn’t like it! I had to keep looking straight ahead…… we then dropped down into Kessock Village and managed to find a cuppa before crossing the Black Isle and passing through Munlochy to join the A9 to cross the Cromaty Firth before re-joining the old route at Evanton. Care will be needed as the route uses around 3 miles of the A9. The wind was relentless and making it hard work, especially going across the Cromaty Firth. It seemed to take forever to chunk the miles down and it felt like we were going backwards with the wind. We left Evanton, a climb up through Alness and on to ‘The Struie’ and ‘Surprise View’ before the amazing descent towards Bonar Bridge and Balblair.
I was so glad to reach the campsite and would say this was probably the most challenging day so far with the wind. I went and ate first as we were quite late back, before I went for a shower and got some physio on my leg and had it retaped for the final day.
Sunday 12th September 2021
Kyle of Sutherland to John O’Groats – 104.1 miles, 4541ft of climbing, 14 degrees and cloudy
Ave speed 12.8 mph
7 Notable climbs
The last base camp departure took the ride past the falls of Shin and Invershin Castle before passing through Lairg and the very unique and isolated Cask Inn. From there, we dropped into Altnaharra and pitstop 1, which had a hot drink on offer but was rife with midges! How on earth I didn’t get bitten is beyond me, as some people looked liked they had measles.
We then went on one of the most beautiful roads of the entire route to Betty Hill. Once we reached Betty Hill, the Northern Coast Road offered us amazing views of the cliffs and sandy coves but those views were not without a few testing climbs along the way towards the second pitstop at Reay. I was on a high, knowing that the end destination was around 30 miles and my husband and dogs would be waiting for me. So I got a move on and it suddenly felt like hard work, I looked down and you guessed it another puncture on the front wheel :(. John helped me changed it in record time and we were back in the game again. Our final part of the journey took us on the A836 where we turned off for the unclassified road to Thurso. The climb out of Thurso, again on an unclassified but exposed road, towards John O’Groats and our final destination provided great views of the Orkney Isles. I even passed our accomodation for a couple of nights on the approach to John O’Groats. As soon as we hit the main road, I picked my pace up again and pushed towards the finish, John and I crossed the line together as we had pulled each other along during the last 9 days. I could hear my hubby shouting – well done Em 🙂
It still hasn’t really sunk in that I have cycled the whole of the UK from south to north. The cycling, I enjoyed, but the hard part was all the activity you needed to do when you got into Base Camp – store your bike, remove all the lights and computers for charging, collect your heavy bag and take it to your tent, blow up your airbed and set everything out ready for tomorrow, take stuff to the drying room, go for a massage and get taped up, shower and eat!
The tag line for Threshold, who run the event, is #moreisinyou and it certainly is – I survived on very little sleep and probably didn’t eat enough either if I am honest, yet I completed the event and didn’t really have any major wobbles – despite two punctures in the last two days. What I would say is that I did put a lot of training in and lots of hills which definitely helped me.
The UK is a stunning country and I feel privileged to have cycled across it, however Scotland really blew me away, and captured my heart.