My boyfriend and I recently cycled the length of the UK. From the southern most point in England to the northern most tip of Scotland, we pedalled some 1,400 kilometres in 11 days across beautiful countryside, through all that mother nature threw at us.
Firstly, to any motorist who drives past a cyclist (and provides lots of room of course, thank you) in the pouring rain and thinks to themselves, ‘who would be stupid enough to cycle in this weather?’, fair play for making excellent life choices and opting for warmth and efficiency. Secondly, well, we were those cyclists. Etching that little further north each day in what was more often than not rain, more rain, or beneath skies that threatened rain. It was September, supposedly one of the driest months for the UK…
Which brings me to this blog entry. Wisdom sure is a beautiful thing. Often it comes from having lived and learned. And so, having recently endured long days in the saddle and had many hours to contemplate hypothetical situations, study tarmac qualities, as well wishing we knew what we know now, we’ve unlocked some ‘need to knows’ for future LEJOGers (in no particular order), to ensure they’re best prepped for this incredible cycling adventure.
We hope you find these helpful, as well wish you a safe and happy journey along what is surely one of the best cycle routes in the world!
1. Do NOT Underestimate the Weather:
It would be dry they said… On being advised by the Englishman himself – aka my boyfriend; that September is historically one of the driest months in the UK calendar, we worked toward a mid- September departure and would take 9 days to complete the journey.
As we drove through the night to Lands End, it rained. On the first day of the cycle we encountered rain. And pretty much from there on in, we became accustomed to being waterlogged for all of the days, bar one.
Perhaps a little naïve on the initial packing front and too ambitious in thinking the sun would beat down and warm our backs each day; instead, we each purchased a new thermal underlay, as well for myself, a fleecy long-sleeved jersey and a decent rain jacket along the way. Naturally, the further north we ventured, the colder it was. I can’t stress enough the importance of being prepared for all of the elements. Because in a single day we surely cycled through all of the four seasons!
2. Be Generous on the Budget Front:
I’m not going to lie. I didn’t expect the LEJOG journey to be nearly as expensive as it was. After all, cycling is free! In saying this, if you took the supported approach and were fortunate to have others pitch tents, cook meals and prepare fresh sets of Lycra at your ready, I’ve no doubt that you would save precious pennies. However, if you’re a little like us and prefer to ‘take it as it comes’ so to speak, be prepared to throw some extra pounds into the economy.
For us, last minute accommodation was the biggest blunder to the bank account at an average of 60 – 70 pounds per night. Given the weather, we would map out our target mileage each day and book hotels, guesthouses or Airbnb’s along the way. Understandably this is an expensive approach, however much more cost effective (and importantly, enjoyable) than booking a week’s worth of accommodation and simply not being able to reach it for more reasons than one, therefore having to rebook, and so on.
A girls gotta eat! As does he. And when you’re covering off 6-7 hours in the saddle each day, it’s important to keep on top of your fluids and nutrition. Oftentimes, breakfast was included in our accommodation, which made those early mornings easier. We would carry nutritious snacks** for bouts of energy along the way and evening meals were mostly within a short walk from our accommodation. More often than not, the local pub was place of choice, which consisted of a veggie burger, or a veggie burger. Oh, and pizza on every other occasion! Between us, it wasn’t unusual to spend 30 – 40 pounds’ per day on nutrition.
** Also referred to Cadbury’s finest selection of chocolate goodness.
An expense that we most definitely didn’t plan for was that of a hire bike to bring home the last 300 kilometres. Stranded high and dry (quite literally!) in the Cairngorms’ along the A9 due to an incredibly frustrating (and no doubt a pricey fix! Aka #newbikeday) bike malfunction (we’re talking a fractured carbon frame, detached derailleur and a chain that resembled nothing short of an entangled mess), our only option was to walk 10 miles to the nearest village and catch the next train 20 miles further to Aviemore. Some pounds later, and a very expensive nights’ accommodation (though lovely), we were en route again the next morning.
Point being, though an incredible way to see the countryside, LEJOG (for us) was by no means an inexpensive undertaking. Remember, what goes up, must come down. And for this reason, those few hundred pounds spent on car rental was indeed one of our best investments!
3. The Roads Are Slow Moving:
I shall never again complain of tarmac qualities and the efficiency of Australian roads. Admittedly, if someone had previously warned that it would sometimes take up to 7 hours to cycle 150 kilometres (or less) along the LEJOG route, I wouldn’t have believed them for a moment. But, truth be known, it damn straight did.
Previously ignorant to the patchy road surfaces and narrow lanes, the many beautiful albeit slow moving villages that we passed through, more traffic lights and roundabouts than one could possibly fathom, as well wet conditions and heavier traffic in general; the days were long. Averaging 21 – 25 km/hr., we were well off the 180 – 200 km (28-30 km/hr.) target that we had initially set out to cover each day. 150 kilometres in the saddle quickly became a solid session. In saying this, we opted for a ‘safe route’, which mostly consisted of quieter country roads (and few A roads) instead of cycling the most direct route along the busy stretches of highway. Though lengthier than intended, we arrived to the tip of Scotland safe and well, and got to enjoy the stunning scenery more so than I believe one would, should they opt for the fast lane.
We know this, but patience really is a virtue. Realistically, how many times would one cycle this route in their lifetime? Once, twice, three times at most. Take your time and enjoy the journey.
4. Snacks Are a Beautiful Thing:
You will need these and they will most definitely become something delectable to look forward to! Mix it up and keep those tasty treats a ‘flowing. Let’s be honest, we’re not watching our calorie intake, we’re cycling the length of Britain and bursts of energy will become your best friend.
From experience, KitKats, snickers and caramel wafer bars are excellent choices. And coffee, that stuff is life!
5. Invest in The Best Pair of Knicks You Can Find:
Admittedly, I packed a particular kit because I liked the way it looks. Big LEJOG rookie error! I wore it on day 1, and whilst I may have looked the part, it was most definitely the making of next-level saddle soreness for the next 10 days.
Luckily, I also packed my trusty Sportful knicks that continue to stand the test of time and provide comfort despite the many wears, and conditions they’ve endured. I lived in those knicks for the remaining 10 days.
Lesson learned. If I had my time again, I would without question (and highly recommend), invest in the highest-quality knick within my means, of which, my bottom would have thanked me everyday! Plus, it’s so damn cold that layer upon layer will be worn. Toward the end, you won’t care how good you look or don’t look. Your energy will be focused toward hitting the top. And if you have to wear 5-day-old sweaty (albeit dry) kit, then that it shall be!
Have a fab adventure fellow LEJOGers. Cycle safe and ride happy x