Just under a fortnight ago, I ventured to Land's End to set off on what promised to be an epic cycle the length of Britain to John O'Groats. Things started off badly (to the point that paramedics were called before we even set off) and while they picked up, the days were though and things didn't always go to plan.
Things particularly didn't go to plan last weekend, as on Saturday our support vehicle broke down, and the following morning, after a heap of delays trying to rescue the trip through renting another vehicle, my bike then broke (look at that strong independent derailleur that don't need no mech hanger above). My 1000mi journey came to a sudden stop 707mi in, on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
I was gutted
I was gutted, and while there was a possibility for me to potentially repair the damage, a similar issue with the same part needing replacing before I set off took several days to source, and another bike then made spare was already on its last legs, and with 250mi to go, I was at serious risk of becoming ballast in the already tightly packed support MPV. There was also the feeling that skipping even a few yards of the journey until a solution could be found would render the entire venture void and cheated.
In cycling over 700mi, I'd gone further than I thought I ever would have been able to, for longer than I believed myself capable of, including my first ever century day (100mi in a single day) taking in the impressive climb that runs through and up Cheddar Gorge, and then completed my second ever century the immediate next day. I had as much to be proud of as I did to be disappointed about. But I still came away with a sense of failure, and a number of lessons learnt.
I will one day repeat the journey, albeit going the full distance (the length of the country, whatever the mileage of a sensible route may be). But in doing so, I'll be sure not to repeat a number of things that occurred in this attempt.
- Following the Leader
I found myself far too trusting of the organiser of our trip. Concerns raised were met with an assuring 'yeah, yeah they'll be sorted', but ultimately surfaced later on, making what was already tough going even tougher. Future endeavours will definitely involve greater input from myself (at least if the organisers are my peers and no more experienced or expert than myself). Generally, in fact, probably best to hold peers in an appropriate degree of scrutiny according to the magnitude of tasks and objectives being planned.
- Knowledge is Porridge
Excuse the The Thick of It quote, but knowledge really was power with this journey (and porridge was the single best source of fuel). As soon as we deviated from the routes that had been planned, things almost always went south quickly (sometimes literally). Attempts to make things easier or otherwise better for ourselves at the grace of Google Maps didn't always work out (road bikes aren't really ideal for tow paths and mud trails). This certainly applies to far more than epic cycling, a stitch in time saves nine, and that weird glue stuff is never as good an idea as it first seems.
- Choose the Right Tool
I naively assumed that someone would have a Garmin cycle computer or similar to aid with navigation. Nobody did, and then it was always a fight to find someone willing to navigate with a phone that wouldn't always last the whole day. Smartphones are brilliant, but 8+ hour days on two wheels aren't really the primary consideration for Jony Ive and his counterparts.
- Plan Meticulously and Elastically
Just to really hammer home the point, planning and knowing what lay ahead truly would and did make things easier at times. The biggest obstacle for us was navigation, with people not knowing routes, rest stops agreed usually only the morning we set off (not always to great effect), and people refusing to navigate. Better planning and co-operation would have helped the entire group here. Planning should always consider worst case scenarios as well however. Obviously not every eventually can be accounted for, but when things started to go wrong we were often left at a loss, when we should have just had to change bearing and adapt (although time constraints compounded our problems and ability to adapt).
- Know When To Pivot and When To Abandon
Without wanting to be a bit too blatant in trying to get bigger-picture lessons out of what was a very specific set of events and problems, for me one of the toughest things was knowing to call it quits when my bike gave up. I had a number of potential options to continue, but all of them would have compounded existing issues, lead to potentially worse circumstances, or were just generally not sensible.
Ultimately, the trip wasn't successful for me, individually, (although one of the group managed the entire distance, and there was a fair group at the finish line) but that doesn't mean I didn't get a great deal from it. I'll complete it as soon as I can (time and a reasonable group of similarly determined individuals permitting), but in the mean time I've achieved a fair amount (more than I could have expected to do a couple of years or even months ago), and learnt a great deal more. The trip might not have been a success, but equally the only true failure was mechanical.