CYCLE BLOG: ‘It’s all for dad’ says Fenland man after completing epic 1000-mile bike ride

A FENLAND man has cycled the length of the country, completing 1,035 gruelling miles in an emotional tribute to his late father.

James Fuller, from Chatteris - who had described himself as a non-cyclist - arrived at John O’Groats this week after setting off from Land’s End a fortnight ago.

The 38-year-old tackled the ride in memory of his father Tony, who died from a heart attack in 2009. He has so far raised more than �1,500 for the British Heart Foundation and can still be sponsored by visiting www.justgiving.com/James-Fuller1

In his final exclusive blog for The Cambs Times/Wisbech Standard, James Fuller wrote:

Day 12 Inveraray to Fort William

Each day we follow route sheets rather than maps, velcroed in clear plastic wallets to our handlebars, giving directions at prescribed mileages. Actually that’s not true with our group, each day we follow Marcus.

Marcus is 22, fitter than the rest of us, more agile of mind and body; daily he cycles up front, often hands-free, changing his iPod, flicking over route sheets, giving directions, slowing down for us, taking phone calls, eating energy bars: given a camping stove I’m sure he could turn out six fry-ups without breaking stride.

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Today though, as I was meeting mum in Fort William in the early afternoon; I would be Marcusless, riding solo. The fear this evoked as a 38-year-old man is not comfortable to admit, but those little yellow sheets of instruction looked awfully foreboding as I headed out early and alone.

Following yesterday’s fall I did though leave with words of encouragement from Bike Adventures support man Steve.

“I’ve fitted stabilizers to your bike James so you should be ok today.”

It may seem an obvious statement but riding alone is a wholly different experience. Our days have been spent shuffling positions in the pack, dropping back during a bad patch, moving up if you feel good; in so doing we fall into easy conversation, sharing stories and experiences, throwing out jokes, negotiating decisions on breaks and lunch stops, but alone your mind is free to wander.

Scotland evokes some of my fondest childhood memories as each summer found our family heading for far-flung locations north of the border to spend a week trout fishing on remote lochs of the rawest beauty. With countless breathtaking views unfolding around every corner, as I cycled along the shores of Lochs Awe, Laich, Creran, Etive and Linnhe, today was a day for such recollections.

It would’ve been a good day for fishing, with the cloud keeping the sun at bay and a light breeze ruffling the surface. My mind flipped back 30 years as if it was yesterday; dad tirelessly rowing us boys around with lines trailing behind, the serenity of being out there broken only by the slow creaking of oars in rowlocks and water gently lapping against the sides of the boat.

Now and again a Brown Trout would obligingly attach itself to our flies, be hauled briefly from its watery domain and be plopped back again wondering what the heck just happened. Barely ever breaking half-a-pound these golden-bellied fish, vividly marked with red and black spots, were objects of wonder in a young boy’s eyes.

My reverie was broken soon after a sign welcomed me to the Highlands when, looking down whilst changing gear, I was alarmed to see my chain detach itself from the cogs. It may give some idea of my mechanical competence when I relate how ridiculously and disproportionately pleased I was to subsequently reattach it without assistance.

Having completed a task which would insult a trained chimp I wiped my greased hands on the roadside grass, barely stifling the urge to emit a “Grrrrrrr” and beat my chest.

Miles completed: 820 of 1,035

Day 13 Fort William to Evanton

Tents are made of very thin material which is not soundproof, self-evident you might think, apparently not. I spent three hours one night listening to a man tip-toeing his daughter through the pros and cons of public and private sector employment and the issue has been brought into sharper focus by the presence in our midst of two thunderous snorers. Tent positioning has become tactical. The snorers identified, each evening unfolds like a game of chess. You open casually.

“Where are you pitching tonight then?”

“Oh around here looks like a nice spot, how about you?”

“Might give over there a bash,” you say pointing to a position three fields distant.

“What, on the low ground, away from the shelter of the hedge? Huh, well don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Arriving first in Fort William last night I stupidly positioned myself in a prime location; high ground, sheltered, close to a path and near the toilet block.

Returning from dinner I found my tent encircled like a castle under siege and ominously adjacent to an arch snorer. I awoke at 1am to a sound resembling a cow in calf, and it was to be a long labour.

Sleepless night complete, a windless morning provided the perfect conditions for one of Scotland’s most famous pests, heralding the onset of midge mania. What begins with a casual swipe soon becomes a full morning workout as people graduate through flicking, flapping and slapping to star jumps and circular running. It’s all to no avail, the midges breakfast better than us, and the welts on my legs soon resemble a fleshy dot-to-dot puzzle.

This part of Scotland is replete with vast expanses of water but none compares to Loch Ness; 23 miles long, deeper than the North Sea, and containing more freshwater than all the lakes of England and Wales combined. Running south-west to north-east along a slicing course across the country it is hard to comprehend Loch Ness’ scale; even when you spend most of the day cycling its undulating shoreline.

But if we thought Loch Ness was imposing we were to get a late afternoon shock when we came upon a hill near Beauly which literally took our breath away. As we slogged a panting path up this unforgiving hunk of granite the irony of having a coronary whilst riding for the British Heart Foundation repeatedly flashed through my mind.

Now I get the whole risk and reward, pain and pleasure concept; that’s how challenges of this type can be marketed, you climb steeply up a 15% gradient for the best part of a mile but are ‘rewarded’ by the thrill of a long descent. Well I don’t think the joys of the flat road going round the hill should be so easily discounted. Judging by the noises emanating from others I wasn’t alone.

Moods were not improved when, slumping into camp, we asked Steve if that hill had been entirely necessary.

“Define ‘entirely’.”

Miles completed: 898 of 1,035

Day 14: Evanton to Bettyhill

Scarcely believably the penultimate day of the trip, and our last big mileage day, arrives; it’s a day which will see us reach the north coast of Scotland.

In so doing we ride across some of the UK’s most remote and wild countryside, including one 20-mile stretch of Sutherland moorland. It’s a harsh environment, desolate and exposed, and the wind whips across this flat terrain. The others begin to complain but I have to say an unusual feeling dawns on me, I’m actually feeling quite comfortable, this is what I spent three months training in, this is the Fens transplanted to northern Scotland; blowy and featureless is what I do, try a Chatteris-Nordelph roundtrip.

The A836 (little more than a single-track gravel road) navigates a winding path through these expansive flats which provide perfect territory for low-level fighter pilots.

RAF Lossiemouth is the UK’s biggest base for Tornado GR4s and presumably this is what we glimpse as, instinctively looking up to the sound source, you scan forward just in time to see a black dot streaking over the horizon.

We pass stacks of peat, alongside the trenches from which they’ve been dug; red-and-white poles defining the roadside for the winter snowfalls and forest plantations, either still standing or recently-harvested.

The felling process must be a spectacularly brutal spectacle if the devastation of these felled forests is anything to go by; the strewn bleached-white stumps, limbs and debris look like the aftermath of an atomic explosion.

Perched in the middle of this 20 miles of nothingness is the Crask Inn, its white walls like a mirage in a moorland desert. Inside, as we warm our feet by the peat stove, we listen to each other munch on homemade sandwiches and bricks of apple and raisin cake, the silence is all-pervading. You have to get on well with your family out here.

After lunch we climb out of the flats and on towards the coast, skirting the beautiful shoreline of Loch Naver before tracking the bright blue waters of one Scotland’s most exclusive salmon fisheries, the River Naver.

The scenery is stunning and the wildlife different to anything I’m used to: birds like buzzards, hooded crows, curlew, siskins, and wheatears and red deer on the hillsides. It’s the type of country to make you breathe in deep, exaggerated lungfuls of air and I’m in sunny mood as we ascend into Bettyhill and catch our first glimpse of the ocean.

Our campsite though, perhaps in keeping with its remote location, is a touch basic and summed up in one overheard exchange between a rider and group leader.

Keith: “Is there a code for the shower block?”

Rob: “I don’t think there’s a door.”

Miles completed: 975 of 1,035

Day 15: Bettyhill to John O’Groats

We awoke this morning expecting a triumphal glide into our final destination, like the peloton on the last day of the Tour de France sipping champagne as they enter Paris, what we got, as we turned left out of the campsite, was to be hit in the face by 25mph headwinds. It was like walking onto Lennox Lewis’ jab for 50 miles. We even had to cycle hard to make progress going downhill.

I suppose in the end it kept us honest, the trip was meant to be a challenge and that is what it has been. And there was still time for plenty of gallows humour, well for some.

“I’ve never looked forward to going back to work more in my life,” was American rider Laura’s response when prompted by a line of questioning I chose not to pursue.

The two weeks have had an element of the surreal about them. It has been bizarre tracing our progress in 75-mile strides up the UK. We arrive in towns and villages as garishly-garbed aliens cycling through people’s everyday lives, we observe them, they observe us, not always favourably.

“Keep riding, cycling t***s,” a memorably piquant greeting in Monmouth; as was being heckled by a chubby, pasty-faced seven-year-old girl in Motherwell who, with sarcastic thumbs up and a look of commendable disdain in one so young, shouted: “Yeah, go bike!”

But this, the rain, the long climbs, the falls, and everything else that has come along in between, have all formed part of the experience, and one which has been overwhelmingly positive on so many levels.

There have been friends and memories made and of course what it was all about in the first place, fundraising for the British Heart Foundation, which at this point looks set to clear �2,000. Underpinning it all is the memory of my dad.

It was in this frame of mind that I cycled into John O’Groats, 15 days and 1,035 miles after our band of green and naive riders set out from Land’s End. It’s a nondescript location (named after a Dutchman who charged a groat for a 15th century ferry service) little more than a bunch of scattered homes, a small harbour, some shops trading off its status as one of Britain’s most far-flung points, and of course the signpost. Remarkably similar to the one at Lands End, the thought occurring how it would’ve been a lot easier to have simply flicked the sign round in Cornwall, snapped another picture and jumped back on the train.

There was of course elation, mostly because now I can lay off the talc and antiseptic wipes, go cold turkey on my Ibuprofen and energy bar habit, allow my intestines to return to some semblance of normalcy and my legs and buttocks to deflate.

Memories of the ride will stay with me of course but one of the biggest highlights has been the support and generosity shown during the last three-and-a-half months; I am deeply grateful for it all.

There have been some unexpectedly large and touching donations but people have also given kindly of their time. It’s always dangerous to single people out but Paul and Catherine for a seven-hour roundtrip to visit me in Wentnor during the first week deserve special mention; as does Heath Fletcher at Bodywise Cycles, not least for the loan of his bike; I needed those small gears more often than I could possibly have imagined.

Miles completed: 1,035 of 1,035

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