CYCLE BLOG: Fenland man reflects on ‘shock to system’ as he nears halfway point in 1000-mile bike ride

A FENLAND man has reflected on the punishing first half of a 1,000-mile bike ride as he cycles the length of the country in memory of his father.

James Fuller, from Chatteris - who describes himself as a non-cyclist - is six days into the Land’s End to John O’Groats challenge and has reached Cheshire.

The 38-year-old is tackling the ride in a tribute to his father Tony, who died from a heart attack in 2009. He is raising money for the British Heart Foundation and can be sponsored by visiting www.justgiving.com/James-Fuller1

Blogging exclusively for The Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard, James Fuller wrote:

Having taken up cycling three months ago and with all my training being in the flats of the Fens it’s fair to say the first few days of this Lands End-John O’Groats trip have come as a shock to the system.

A few dashes up Haddenham Hill it seems are not ideal preparation for such an undertaking. One group leader, with a talent for pithy one liners, bolstered our confidence on the eve of the first day with statements such as, “Enjoy the Somerset levels on day four, they’re the only level bit of the entire trip.”

Suitably heartened, a happy band of 20 riders had pictures snapped at the Lands End signpost and set out beneath sunny skies, tracing the stunning north Cornish coast with the ocean a constant companion to our left and sucking in a tangy mix of sea breeze and cow manure.

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The terrain soon broke out into riotous undulation with homes and farmyards nestled cosily into nooks in the countryside, churches sat grandly atop hills and stone walls and hedgerows arcing like eyebrows over the gradients. It’s wonderful to look at but not always so appealing to cycle over and as ascent followed descent, followed ascent I found myself asking, with nostalgic pangs for Somersham Fen, “What is the Cornish fascination with hills?”

Don’t get me wrong some of the scenery could not be bettered, such as the village of Portreath, tucked away in a spectacular little bay more often associated with the South of France, but as we enjoyed our “Yeeeehaaaa!!!!” descent into that bay there came the familiar sensation that what comes down must go up and within seconds we were slogging up another steepling hill.

I spent much of that first day chewing my handlebar like it was the last spare rib at the table and weaving violently from side to side, whirring away on tiny gears making as much progress as, in the words of Blackadder, an asthmatic ant.

Ending day one in Lostwithiel we had climbed 5,500ft but if I’d thought the Cornish had a fascination with hills Day Two would reveal that Devonians have a fixation which is positively indecent.

Crossing a picturesque stone bridge over the babbling River Tamar we were greeted by a sign cheerfully welcoming us to Devon. Immediately behind the sign was our first lungbursting hill of the day, welcome indeed.

It didn’t improve matters that the weather was atrocious, absolutely cheerless and was to enshroud us all day. One long sweating slog followed another, in belting rain, accompanied by startled observations such as: “That’s not a hill that’s a cliff-face.” If there’s a flat piece of Devon we never found it; the locals must all have one leg shorter than the other and walk round in circles on the flat, but may explain why they’re such adroit Maypolers.

This day had long been heralded as the toughest of the trip and with relentless and remorseless rain, thrown in sheets at us across the bleak, inhospitable heights of Dartmoor it turned into an exercise in attrition.

I can’t remember being more thoroughly soaked but there were lighter moments such as slingshotting hills with the speed built up from the descent of another. I’ve owned enough old bangers to have learned this tactic in cars but it was like being a kid again doing it on a bike.

The first three days all involved a lot of climbing, and frequent thoughts that the route planner has something of a sadistic bent, but the daddy has been a steep, snaking mile-long ascent of Somerset’s Quantock Hills. The all-enveloping silence at breakfast on the fourth morning told its own story.

This is the time when maladies raise their heads, sore necks, backsides and knees most common; with people popping Ibuprofen like Smarties and the waft of Deep Heat circulating.

After years of inflicting untold damage on your body this is really a time to look after yourself and it’s fair to say the last time I was covered in this much talc I was six months old.

We’re all eating like horses without thought of care or consequence, doughnuts, crisps, cake, bananas, in fact pretty much anything that sits still long enough, is being inhaled. You would do well to gain weight on a fortnight like this and one of the riders, with a fancy computer that calculates these things, said we burned 5,000 calories on day three. Eating all these energy bars does come with its downsides though and I’m currently having more environmental impact than a herd of Friesians.

We’re averaging a county a day, Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, across the Severn Bridge into Monmouthsire, up the borders counties and by the end of Day Six we’ve hit Footballer’s Wives’ territory in Cheshire. We’ve fallen into a routine of eat, sleep, cycle, eat, sleep, cycle; spending around eight hours a day on the bike.

It’s not hard to spot our group at the campsite at night, we’re the ones walking around in a stoop; it’s like those evolution of man charts, you take two hours to get fully upright again.

I’ve also noticed the lower half of my body is growing disconcertingly and rapidly disproportionate to the top half; it’s cartoonlike and remains to be seen what the end result will be by John O’Groats.

The biggest plus of all has really been that we have a fantastic group, not a moaner or whinger among them and a brilliant support team in Bike Adventures.

Apologies to those who I had promised more frequent updates but my pre-trip dreams of long, lazy afternoons, kicking back with a good book and nary a care in the world have hit a rather rocky reality.

Still six days down, 400 miles under the belt and another 600 to go. If you’ve sponsored me already, thank you so much again it really is appreciated, and if not donations of any size would be hugely appreciated on my Just Giving page: www.justgiving.com/James-Fuller1

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