End to End by Tandem - 2nd to 23rd June 1998
by Anne & Mike Wesson
Amongst serious cyclists the Land's End to John O'Groats challenge is something to which they aspire. As we have only been riding for 7 or 8 years it was something in which we could only be in awe - until a couple of years ago when we felt perhaps it was something we could try as a retirement celebration. It remained one of those things we might do (but so often never do!) until the middle of last year (1997) when the kind of casual conversation you have over a Sunday lunch led to another couple (already retired) with whom we ride regularly, suggesting that they would be interested in joining us if we ever thought seriously of actually doing it.
So began a year that none of the four of us will ever forget.
We met on a regular basis to plan our "adventure" and share out the various tasks that had to be done. This phase was not only vital to our eventual success but became as enjoyable and fulfilling as the ride itself in many ways. Granted the good food and wine which accompanied these get togethers did much to move things along in a very pleasant way and perhaps stopped us getting too serious.
As we put together the apparent mundane details like travel arrangements to the start and from the finish (not as simple as it sounds) B & Bs, what we would carry - or more important what we would not carry, the basic route, etc, etc, the whole thing began to come to life and after Christmas, as we moved into the serious details, it began to take over our lives.
Fortunately most, if not all, of the decisions we made in our discussions during the dark winter evenings were good ones, helped things to go much more smoothly than might otherwise have been the case and also enhanced the pleasure we all experienced on the ride itself.
Like first making absolutely sure of our transport to the start (a good friend drove us down the day before) and from the finish (by train - including from Wick to Inverness which "doesn't carry tandems" - but had to for us because we had pre-booked tickets).
Agreeing to "cheat" a little, sorting out the paper work at the start and riding the first 3 or 4 miles from Land's End to our B & B at Sennen the "afternoon before".
Deciding to take the West coast route in Scotland and, despite the extra mileage involved, going over to Arran and along Loch Awe to the Bridge of Orchy, which gave us some of the best days of the whole journey.
Deciding that we would take 3 weeks - giving us a reasonable daily average whilst at the same time allowing us time to enjoy what we were doing and to appreciate the countryside through which we were travelling.
Deciding to keep things as loosely structured as possibly by not pre-booking any B & Bs, thus giving ourselves maximum flexibility on the road - to be guided by how we felt and how things were going each day.
Agreeing to have a different "captain" each day - the one who had the final say if needed (not often).
Agreeing that, although we would doubtless get fit on the trip, we really need to get fit for it. This was fine until Anne was knocked off her bike and broke her collar-bone 5 weeks before the start date! However, she was not prepared to allow a little thing like that to interfere and, with a lot of determination, some carefully structured exercise in the gym with Mike and continuing to ride the tandem with arm in a sling (OK as long as you are on the back!), she managed to keep herself in good shape.
All too soon the planning was over and it was finally time to go. Despite initially getting up 3 hours too early we were duly ready when our transport arrived and had an uneventful drive down to Cornwall.
The following morning - Day 1 - was greeted with somewhat mixed feelings - glad to be off but rather apprehensive about the size of the task on which we were embarking. It also brought the first change of plan!! Taking local advice we changed our route to Penzance - a good decision that showed the value of remaining flexible.