Sunday, 29 August 2010

The Final Push (except we didn’t push, we pedalled)

I apologise for cramming the last few days into one post.

We started the day with a superb Pipers Farm breakfast; scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon, beans and toast... Piper thought it would be good to have a picture of the butchers on the bike, which indeed it was. What wasn’t so good was Tubs getting his leg over a bit backwards (not for the first time I’m sure) and snapping our Cancer Research UK banner. This was easily fixed with some sticky tape but meanwhile one set of pedals had cracked off the frame so We had to go and see Dave Gillard for another spot of welding. I think Miss CoBi is getting used to it now, and sees it a bit like going to the salon. While there Piper and I had a long chat about the farm and good animal husbandry. Although we didn’t agree on everything I must say I am extremely impressed by the Pipers Farm ethos, especially in regards to creating, sustaining and supporting a real countryside community.
We didn’t start cycling until 11am, which wasn’t ideal, but with Juicy Lucy, Matt, Will and Paul joining us, along with Big Will and Betty Boo we knew we had the A-team, and we had to get to Okehampton this evening. About an hour in, this didn’t look like a problem as we clocked up 47mph; Ed was facing backwards, and for the first time on this ride he actually looked scared. Things were going so well that we stopped into a pub and some of the guys had a pint (being a sensible driver I had lemonade). Not only were we going at a good pace, but the weather was ‘fine’ (not sunny, but not raining... Just a misty, faint drizzle which was quite refreshing). We kept hearing bad things about Okehampton (they called it Soakhampton on the radio) but when we arrived it was not too bad at all. We drove up to the Youth Hostel to see if they would shout us a free nights camping, which they did. Then we drove down to the pub, where I had a minute steak to start and a suet game pie for my main; it was all very nice, apart from the vegetables which were bloody disgusting.

Chris drove us very badly back to the campsite and we put on our swim suits and went to bed.

In the morning we snuck into the showers disguised as ‘Youth Hostel goers’ (I covered my face in mud and feigned a German accent). We met Colin Sanderson; Colin lost his sister to cancer and today was her birthday so he drove all the way down from London to join us and ride the bike, which was really special.

We also met Kim and Guy at Waitrose (these weren’t just any cyclists; these were premium hard saddled cyclists with extra gears). Not long into the day we met Kim’s 86 year old mum; she was quick to mount the bike and became our oldest rider to date (although she only took it round the hotel car park). A short while later we rattled by ‘Jethro’s Place’; Jethro is a local celebrity, and a thoroughly nice chap and that is all you need to know.

The climb into Launceston was really rather steep, but waiting for us at the top were traditional Cornish pasties (apparently Cornish pasties used to be half meat and half jam). We were also joined by the soon to be Mrs Greig, aka Natasha, and Juicy Lucy’s friend Anna the Spanner. Also young Ella (12yrs) gave us her local knowledge, 3 pronged camel bag and legs of steel.
Suddenly Peter flew passed honking his horn (like Mary Poppins but with less hair and a bigger horn); on board he had a precious cargo, the world famous Chithar. Some people say he is half man, half god, some people say he is the messiah, I say he is a good cyclist.

For Natasha’s birthday we went for a traditional Cornish curry; Ed covered the bike in balloons and Ed's Mum made a mess out of the cake (a delicious Eton mess). We let off party poppers and sang many rounds of happy birthday. After all the fun and laughter we headed back to Kim and Guy's house to sleep. Ian refused to share a room with me, but it was possibly the leopard Gecko in the glass tank in the corner that really put him off!

The next day we didn’t really want to cycle down the massive hill we'd climbed the night before so we decided to keep going up; this may have been a mistake as we hit some of the hardest hills we have had to face since Edinburgh. Somehow we managed to cause congestion and tail backs on little farm tracks, which shows you how long it actually took us to make progress. After the worst was over Ian delivered Jamie to us, Ed asked how he had found out about the ride and Jamie informed him that he was a second cousin which was rather embarrassing.

Coming down into the Eden project was stunning; if you have never been then I recommend you have a gander. It was like something from a different world (and that was just the ice cream). We met Maren again and her boyfriend Graham (if Ed and I thought our legs were looking good then Graham made us think otherwise). We also graciously accepted Maren’s friend Michelle onto the bike as well as local legends Anne and Jenny. With a full contingent we arrived into Turo just in time to witness Gay pride; being offered coke in public toilets reminded me of home (I declined, I don’t like sniffing coke because I get bubbles up my nose).

After the penultimate day we went for a Chinese in Redruth; if you ever find yourself in Redruth then please visit the Sunny City. It was like Fawlty Towers; again as with Aaron from Edinburgh it is probably best you ask me about this another time.

On the morning of our last day I think everyone felt quite tired; the night before Kate had rejoined us which was just lovely but it also meant there were ten of us with 2 tents and 5 mattresses. I took one for the team and snuggled into the front seats of the van. Sometime in the night the hand-brake came off but I managed to put it back on just in time (Thank goodness for morning wood).

We rescued Chris Oliver from Redruth station and then we were off; Chris used to weigh 27 stone but had a gastric band fitted and has lost 10 stone. It was brilliant to have him on the bike and he raised the tone of our conversation considerably.
It was such a sunny day, and we were so lucky to be taking the beautiful north coast rode. Cornwall delivered some spectacular views, especially the tin mine shafts which dominate the landscape!

Coming into Land’s End was incredible, we got such a rapturous reception; Henri and Peter managed to kidnap every tourist and added them to our welcome party (it was reminiscent of the North Korean fans at the world cup). On the last descent we got 13 people on the bike, including granddad Guinness (the man who helped create the Guinness Book of World Records now was part of one). Peter popped his cork all over me (not for the first time) and we all got a little sloshed on the cliff.

The last 29 days + 4 have been so utterly incredible; the support, the inspiration, the love have humbled Ed and I. We want to say thank you 1000 times over; somewhere in this blog everyone has been named and thanked somewhere. If you haven’t then please send me your complaint on the back of a self addressed envelope.

Sometimes people just need the opportunity to help, and when you give them one they will always surprise you with how much they have to give. We have ridden Miss Cobi ultimately to raise awareness of the greatest weapon we have against cancer and all adversity, and that is each other.

Goodnight, and don’t have nightmares.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

There isn't going to be a hurricane (thanks for nothing Michael Fish)

Red sky at night shepherds delight. Red sky in the morning shepherds warning. We had both. I wish the bloody shepherds had made their minds up but they were obviously too busy fiddling with their flocks to give us clear elemental sky signs.
The 5.30 start was lovely, we literally bounced out of bed (someone had blown the mattresses up too much) and retraced our steps back to the layby which we had nearly died on the day before. It was good to have Big Will on board, and we soon realised the extra 110 killos he added to the weight would increase our downhill speed 10 fold. Emily, although half the size, had strong legs and wore the lycra well (very well).
We made a brilliant early pace, chewing up the hills and spitting them out again.We only had to stop beause Ian stopped flashing (his lights) so we pulled into a garage and tinkered with Ian’s box (fuse box) until he started flashing (his lights) again. We also picked up team Sowerby (James, Duncan, Eward and Pippa). Now I’m not blaming them, but as the Sowerby’s arrived so did the rain. Coincidence? Perhaps, but I swear I saw little Pippa Sowerby chanting a rain incantation, so I was forced to burn her at the steak. Hilarious jokes aside, once the rain arrived it did it’s shopping, had a light lunch, some coffe, a trip to the gym, a pint at the pub, dinner and a trip to the Sweedish massage parlour – it never bloody left , and it was heavy, windy and cold, the pace began to drop faster than Ann Windicomes cleavage. Not to worry, we had another family to help us, this time the Ireland Jones’ aka the Von Trapps. You would be pushed to find more enthusiasm in a Eunuch's finger than these guys and girls had. I must say, everyone put in a cracking effort; Duncan Sowerby won the medal for consistent pedalling, James Sowerby gave us the sort of push I would like to give David Cameron (off a cliff); Ed, Rachel, and Naomi Ireland-Jones did not want to get off the bike, even Mylene the French pen friend rode the storm couragelously (and this really was a storm).

Although we took the ‘short’ cut around Lyme Regis(look up swear word in the dictionary to see a full relfection of my thoughts on this) and had Nick from ‘Farmer’s Weekly’ on the bike, we were not going to get to Exeter for the 5pm press call. So with a haeavy heart (I have had far too many chips these last few weeks) at 4.15 we loaded the bike onto the trailer and headed to the cathedral. Once again we were behind. But we would worry about that tomorrow.
When we got to the cathedral (just after Exeter City striker Adam Stansfield’s funeral) we had lots of photographs taken. Stano sadly died of bowel cancer at 31 and with Ed and Will’s local connection we really wanted Miss CoBi to be visible in the city.
We managed to get through 14 of the ‘worlds greatest sandwich’ (with some gorgeous Ruby Red beef from Piper’s) between about 8 of us which was a great effort! Once again the generoisyt of Henri and Peter was extraordinary, it was lovely to see them again, and ‘Gig Gig’ (granddad Guniess) and meet Juicy Lucy.
We set off for Piper’s farm, stopping for a fuel refill at the TNT depo (thanks TNT!). On Emily’s orders we emptied the van of it’s load and then she emptied Will of his. With pants and socks drying on every surface, and Chip the dog in kanine heaven (many smelly things to sniff at) we began to relax.Ed had a shower before his massage with Deborah and I had my first bath in 3 weeks, before my massage with Deborah. Deborah was very gentle andher magic finger touched me deep inside.
Henri and Peter made the most lovely supper, and the evening was only sullied by the kitchen curtains (I AM JOKING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). After a large glass of wine I retired to the living room and fell asleep infront of a crackling fire – ‘oh Christmas tree, oh Christmas tree ……..’

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Spicy cycle shorts

We stayed at another beautiful campsite, with simple pleasures like running water and toilets; I feel a bit silly having moaned about some of the wetter and colder nights camping considering what is happening in Pakistan (oopps, I just dropped my halo, hang on a second).
The lovely Rosie Marteau and handsome Charles Grummit were waiting for us at Southampton Central along with Sam Brassington who was dressed in a combination of every Stoke City kit for the last 4 years(Mr Brassington has been the first man to scream going downhill, but it was probably his gurd). Sadly only a couple of minutes into the day Rosie’s cardigan got caught in the universal joint and got well and truly mangled.
In all the excitement of the morning we forgot two rider’s who were actually waiting for us at Southampton’s sister station (more like second cousin station)Milbrook. The marmite twins (they were wearing a lot of marmite paraphernalia, they even had marmite water bottles) flagged us down at the side of the road with their unicycle.
As we approached the New Forest Charlie and Ed Wallrock lent us a hand; once again their local knowledge was vital to our navigation, our route plans are about at fixed as an Irish horse race, so we were open to any tips about how to avoid the biggest hills. We were also hunted down by BBC South Today’s weather girl who passes herself off as a journalist on the weekend. She interviewed Ed and got us riding around a pub car park; little did we know that 24 hours later we would be the 7th most watched item on the BBC website!
The New Forest was stunning; ‘wild horses, couldn’t drag me away’ ….. and nestled among the cows and sheep were my mum and dad. They bravely climbed aboard, my mum’s little legs weren’t quite long enough, but she gave us a good mile. Dad has just had his blood pressure pill dosage doubled up, and his cheeks went a purple brighter than the bike, but it was great to have their support.
When we got into Ringwood we passed a horse drawn funeral cortege, so closed our eyes and hoped no one could see us. There was a little bike shop called ‘Common Assault’ where there was talk of a free-wheel replacement (I was cyncical as usual). However, Common Assault, despite the slightly scary name, proved to be the first bike shop man enough for the job, and after 45 mins, some hammering, some chiselling and with oily hands blacker than coal, the bike was fixed. The angle grinder was called for but thankfully not used. We also got £70 quid in the bucket and some Peruvian beer! They truly are biking legends (Particularly Mike, who owns the store) and so if you need anything bike related near Ringwood then use Common Assault (The bike shop, rather than the violence).
Time was ticking by, as it has an annoying tendency to, and bums were getting sore, Sam Brassington started crying more frequently than usual and the light was slowly fading. With 2 miles until Dorchester we had to call it a night, because it was night so we called it one. Miss Fiona Mikel had booked us a table at probably the nicest curry house I have ever been to, so we spiced up our already spicy cycle shorts and took over the Mikel’s Dorchester pad for 5 hours of sleep ready for a 6am start the next day.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Harriet gets moist

Leaving the eco bunkhouse was sad, but we can’t stay everywhere forever. One little boy turned down the offer of a little ride around the farm houses; ‘I can’t because I am half way through my marmite on toast’, which was a good enough reason as any. Whatever strange delicacy I had ingested at the Harvester passed through me into the toilet bowl of time and looked much better on exit than it had done on entry.
Somewhere between driving the bike up the eco barn’s drive, putting it onto the van and taking it off again at Guilford station another one of our free wheels failed which meant we were down to a 6-man bike again. Sadly we could not really fit in another detour to Get Cycling in York (Ed said he could quickly do the 300 miles but I persuaded him otherwise using two fingers and a tub of Sudecreme). Instead we strapped our knitted mascot Harriett to the seat (Eric would be pleased, we got the Dutch bondage element in after all). Harriet got quite moist in the rain, but then again that’s how she likes it!
We had another fan-bloody-tastic crew on board, including Sarah Davies of G4 Challenge fame, and if we thought we might get lost then we needed not fear, Sarah’s family positioned themselves like beacons in lay-bys along the route to guide us. We soon reached Farnham where the Herald newspaper were ready to ambush us, and we had a few snaps taken outside the local Cancer Research charity shop (we blocked the pavement for about 2 minutes much to the horror of some old dear who couldn’t get passed, she must have donated her sense of humour to Cancer Research some years ago). Actually today was a bit of media frenzy, with interviews on Radio Surrey and Radio Solent.
Early on in the day we thought we saw a yeti type creature lurking in the road-side shrubbery. On closer inspection and much to our relief we realised it was Big Will (Ed’s little big brother). Big Will had bumped into us by sheer chance, which made the large collection of cakes and confectionary he was carrying somewhat of a mystery but very welcome all the same. Not so welcome was our fear for Dan the roller blading man’s life, as he sped downhill on the dual carriageway, but he didn’t die which was a bonus. He's thinking of becoming the first rollerblader to do the End to End so hopefully this will have been an interesting test (You can read his blog of the day here). Another bonus involved us manoeuvring our way through 3 road closures using the very best of local knowledge. The secret password, ‘we want to have tea with Betty and Phil’ got us easily past the gatekeepers in yellow florescent jackets with enough crack on show to entertain Elton John for half an hour, and soon we were in Southampton where the sun wasn’t shining down on me, I wasn’t still standing and I felt I had a rocket man up my jacksy.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Ghana to Guilford

Due to a slightly unfortunate error on the part of the CoBi UK we had 5 keen riders who made an earlier start in Windrush Square than was intended, arriving at 8am to be greeted by an enthusiasm sapping downpour. At 8.50, after some frantic phone calls, Ed rushed out in his short shorts, his untanned thighs shining, to find them huddled under a tree. Thankfully some cups of tea, bowls of Dorset Cereals and Nutella covered toast restored at least part of their earlier vim and vigour. The sight of the bike always perks up all but the most downhearted, so when we unloaded Miss CoBi from her trailer bed and pedalled her back to the Square it was as though the sun came out from behind a cloud. This effect was amplified by the fact that the sun did actually come out from behind a cloud and Windrush was looking lovely. If you haven’t been to Brixton recently, do go, because the newly refurbished square is great, with grass and fountains and the like with the excellent Ritzy Cinema looking out over it.
The bike attracted a lot of attention, even early on a Sunday morning, from market stall holders to weed sellers and from church goers to walk of shamers, who often get the “I’ll never drink again” expression when Miss CoBi pedals past. Jack was bedecked in the red, yellow, green and black of Ghana, a flag we got during the World Cup to show our support for a decent team.
As we left London got further into Surrey the Ghana flag attracted a few less donations. We’ve definitely noticed that while the South East does still contain many lovely and generous people, who honk and wave merrily, there are a couple more here who are more impatient and less understanding. We’ve still had only one or two one or two fingered waves but we’ve added a couple to our tally down here. Another person who didn’t quite enter into the spirit of the ride was the landlord of the almost appropriately named Bell Inn, just outside Epsom, who quite forcefully pointed out that the (empty) benches outside the (empty) pub where we stopped briefly for a bite of Mick’s cup cakes weren’t a picnic area.
We pushed on towards Leatherhead, with our now leather backsides protecting us from the worst of the saddle pains. The town were mostly hiding from the drizzle in restaurants and the shopping centre, but Miss CoBi made short work of the one way system and the ramps, and the impressed townsfolk donated heartily.
As we left Leatherhead the drizzle turned into a fully fledged downpour, but with our weatherproof radio from Pure blasting out the tunes, it was unable to dampen our schizzles or nizzles. Onwards we passed Fetcham and Bookham, looking out all the while for Tagham and Bagham and Loveham and Leaveham.
Distance in Surrey is measured in golf clubs and when we were about three courses out we had a brief halt in one of them to let the traffic past and drum up some support. A seven seater bike proved to be surprisingly difficult for the members to get their heads around as their donations were slightly below par if the contents of the car park were anything to go by.
The Borough Guildford had a few more hills to throw at us before finally letting us enter her environs, which we tackled gamely with the help of the mind reading 20 questions devil machine. It didn’t actually get what Mark was thinking of first time, suggesting soap, but perhaps because as well as button his mind was occupied with thoughts of hills, pain, bums and baths (Maybe that was where soap came from).
After about 60 more questions the Welcome to Guildford sign came into view and we pedalled into the town, getting our witness signature in Jamie Oliver’s place before saying goodbye to most of the hardy London folk who’d joined us for the day. Shall in particular deserves special mention for cycling the whole way in jeans, complemented with a leather jacket during the rainy bits, which was an awesome effort by any standards.
We were staying at the Camping Barn in Putternam, a beautiful old barn skilfully converted into a soggy walker’s paradise. It had a shower room and large platform beds (but the website suggested we bring our own mattresses which we did). After dumping our stuff we headed to the only food vendor we could find, another bloody Harvester. After our difficult experience in Stoke I was reluctant, but there was little choice so we took the gastric plunge. The place was practically empty, but somehow there was a half an hour wait until we could be seated, perhaps the ghosts of dead customers still waiting for their food were taking up all the tables. Once again we were met with a super-duper friendly, friendly I want to be your all singing, all dancing, all fluffing soul mate waitress. I must say that after we had been seated our order was taken pretty quick and the food (if you can call it that) soon followed!
The bunkhouse rode the night’s storm like a ship (Titanic?) and it was warm and dry. Some poor twit (naming no names) was sleeping on the dodgy air bed, which deflated on cue after 1 hour of sleeping activity. The afore mentioned twit was also given front row seats at the world snoring championships. Ian Clegg ducked out early and retreated to the van, but Ed, Paul and a random walker performed the snore chorus’s back catalogue until 7am. You can buy the CD from any bad record shop.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

All I want is a bike somewhere, far away from the cold night air, with one enormous chair, oh wouldn't it be lovely

Waking up in my own bed was like returning to the womb. I had tea in my very own, very large, very 'now' bang on trend London mug. I had a shower and marvelled at the little pieces of me still clogged in the plughole (it was so good to be home).

We had an 11 o'clock date with cancer (I have already copyrighted this phrase for a book title before you whipper snappers think about stealing it). We were heading to the Lincoln's Field Institute in High Holborn, which was our penultimate institute tour (the ultimate being Southampton, where we will be rewarded our PHD).

We met the super-duper Nancy of CRUKWALTON twitter fame outside the centre; Nancy has been so wonderfully supportive and has given us lots of tips which have gone towards making our project a success, we owe her many thanks.

Lincoln's Field does a lot of work with Fruit flies; the most wonderful thing about fruit flies is that a generation occurs every two weeks, which means gene therapy experimentation produces clear results in a short space of time. The idea is that DNA can be spliced into new pairings using a heat sensitive enzyme found commonly in the body. The new DNA sequence can then send a signal which in turn repairs the gene mutation. We thought it was pretty extraordinary that researchers can literally order any DNA sequence they like, for as much as £1 per sequence.

We learnt a lot more about the relationship between cancer and stem cells, which we had touched on in Birmingham. Stem cells are very clever little buggers; as you know they have the potential to be anything the body wants them to be, liver tissue, lung tissue, willy tissue etc. They are also the cells most vulnerable to mutation, and more likely to manifest the 'selfish gene' profile (all our cells have an almost primordial memory telling them that they need to divide and multiply, it is only though top down Gene control that they are prevented from doing this, however there is also a lot of self-organisation among cells which means they can be a law unto themselves). If a mutation occurs in the Stem cell genes which disrupt the top down governing then the self organisation of the cell can cause malignant cancer, uncontrolled growth, invasion of 'normal' tissue and metastasis (spreading to other locations). So lung cancer is not lung tissue which becomes cancerous, but rather stem cells which were supposed to be lung cells becoming cancerous. For example, in the skin there are stem cells below the surface waiting to become new skin cells. If we expose ourselves to high doses of UV radiation then the DNA sequence in the Stem cells goes wrong so that when the stem cells go to become skin cells they actually become cancerous. The problem is, when stem cells divide they make one new cell, i.e. skin, lung, willy, but also another one of themselves - this causes aggressive cancer proliferation. If the right DNA sequence can be inserted into the affected area then the mutation can be repaired.

Once again we were overawed by the work being done; we really felt part of one massive puzzle!

With another lovely lunch inside us we departed for Covent Garden to meet our Juice Doctor friends and rattle our buckets. I won't lie it was hard to get into the market square, but never one to admit defeat I navigated us through the countless bollards. Sadly we encountered some street entertainer abuse 'do I come into your office for charity'? No, you are obviously a mean balloon man who would never do anything for charity. We quickly forgot about Mr Nasty and hooked up with the Juice doctor ambulance (there weren’t as many pretty nurses as we might have liked, so we made do with Paddy).

Juice Doctor gave out 1200 bottles for free, which was amazing, and it was great to have them supporting us through the busy London streets. We had our picture taken outside the transport museum, and ferried around my favourite demographic; hen party ladies. We rode down Whitehall and tried to do a circuit of Downing St - maybe it was the sub machine guns but I don't think the police were pleased to see us. Instead we cycled around Parliament square, now guarded day and night by bailiffs.
We crossed Westminster Bridge and anchored ourselves on my old stomping ground, the Southbank. A little boy ran up to us and said ‘my mum had cancer so I’m allowed to come on’, we couldn’t really argue with that so he hopped on and was soon joined by his two brothers and his mum, now in remission which is great news (she said it was worth all the chemo to get on the bike, I think she was joking). We also bumped into Jacqui Cutcher (sporting a new hair cut and highlights) and Martyn Cutcher, it was their wedding anniversary, ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

The Southbank skate park was very tempting, but we had forgotten our baggy trousers and beanie hats, so we weren’t allowed in. Instead we were granted permission to cycle round the ‘Watch this space’ astro turf area outside the National and then we watched Motion Houses ‘chaser’ which was brilliant. We had a quick fish supper by Waterloo station where we said goodbye to Lotte who had been helping us all day.
We crossed back over the bridge and took two lovely Australians to Leicester square; they were very fearful about the result of the election – according to them both candidates for PM are clinically mad. I pointed this was better than our election where all three were pretty much brain dead.
We whiled away the next two hours combing the West End and delving in to centres of vice and scandal. By 10pm we went to pick up the van; the bucket felt about as heavy as Edinburgh, so hopefully we got close to the £2000 mark today.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Maybe it's because i'm a londonder that I like cycling so

The holy children of the sacred combine harvesters came to our rescue once again(Hugh, Lee and Patrick Schneider); the 4 Dobermans took to me like a plastic duck to a pool of boiling water, but we had a gas fired barbecue, bacon, sausages, marinated chicken, pasta, fosters and a luminous blue shower. Obviously it rained, but we are used to sods, Murphy's , or whoever's bloody law it is we seem to abide by.

Ed was awoken many times in the night by Teeta's coughing, the cockerel and screeching owls(not necessarily in that order) and I slept straight through.

The final London stretch to London included,

1. A drive-through MacDonald's (we ordered 2 cokes to share between 11)
2. A stop-off at Lords (my sister has a majority share in a cricket bat)
3. BBC 1 Extra exploitation
4. Picadilly circus (nearly dying)
5. Match funding fishing (basically lassoing any Deloitte employees and tying them to the bike using dental floss).

It was lovely to be home - I tucked Miss CoBi up in bed and I took the floor (she is playing very hard to get, even after entering me).

Thursday, 19 August 2010

CoBi Offensive

The Barcelo Hotel very kindly put us up the night before, and they let us park Miss CoBi in the foyer, which caused quite a stir among the coach touring guests. The 84 year old Walter was quick to jump into the saddle for a photograph, and went on to tell us of his cycling days since passed (as a boy he would cycle 100 miles a day down the deserted war-time lanes, shooting rabbits for supper).

In the morning a large crowd of about 30 gathered outside the hotel, which must count as our biggest send-off yet; they sang a short refrain of 'we'll meet again' as we pedalled with all our might towards Hemel Hempstead.

We had a really rather racy relay team, so there was lots of swapping on and off which kept the pace up nice and high. The girls screamed louder than a lobster in boiling water as we came down a few of the hills, and Chris (Teeta) lost his trainer in frenzied roundabout pedalling. I accidentally got us onto another dodgy dual carriageway into Milton Keynes ; talk about out of the frying pan into the fire ... more like out of the coffin into the crematorium.

We passed by IKEA, which I mooted as the perfect location for Miss CoBi's next challenge (although we might need more than one month to complete a full entrance to exit Ikea ride).

In Leighton Buzzard we picked up the hugely talented Spring Offensive - a very up and almost coming band based in Oxford. I think the image of us riding a seven seater bike at about 30mph down a main road carrying a 4-man band playing their greatest hits thus far will have to go down as a highlight of my life. However so lost were we in the music that we spent an hour going round in one big circle, ending up in, yes you guessed it, Leighton Buzzard (we stupidly took directions from a 'Police Community Support Officer').

Eventually we rolled into Hemel , where we were met by Ed's granddad, Edward Guinness, who was actually at the meeting where the Guinness Book of Records was created .... SPEECHLESS.


My Day On A Seven Seater (Single Geared) Conference Bike , by David Sheffield

After a car journey, a brief train ride to Long Buckby (no, I’d never heard of it either) and a lift in the van (which was in the exact state I expected it to be in after almost 3 weeks of things being bundled in and out) I arrived at the Barcel√≥ Daventry Hotel (4*). Immediately I was warmly welcomed into the CoBi family by fellow riders, Sarah and Harry. This was a pleasant surprise as I had come fully equipped to camp.

Dinner was delayed due to the fascination of the coach tour that were seduced by the seven seat bike sitting in the foyer, one of whom was 84 year old Walter, a former Cancer Research scientist and avid cyclist. He didn’t need much encouragement to climb aboard for a photo.

Three more cyclists joined us before bedtime and we spend the final hour of the day debating whether or not crocodiles make good pets* and was CoBi a fitness or social thing – the second pint of San Miguel confirmed it was more likely the latter.

After a cosy night sleep (6 beds, 9 people) and a hearty breakfast, we set off, not before wrestling the bike from the members of the coach tour who were threatening to abandon their previous days transportation for Miss CoBi.

On the bike to begin with were Ed (Can I tell you a story?), Amy (Scream if you want to go slower), Laura (the extra weight of that hoodie will slow us down), Martin (I enjoy a good poke), Harry (it’s all about the lycra), Stewart (I could start my own business but I’d rather ride a single gear seven seater bike) and myself (I don’t want this to be too easy), while in the van were Sarah (get your butts up this hill now), Jack (Whatever stories Ed told you, they’re completely made up) and Ian (I think I’ve cracked this driving lark now).

Our first stop came after only 1.5 miles when we were stopped by the man from BBC Radio Northampton for an interview. Over the next few hours we seemed to pick up people at every turn. Paul (I’m going to build my own conference bike) joined us at Towcester after driving 5 hours from Essex that morning, Chris (who needs shoes anyway) and Emily (from Norway) joined at Milton Keynes.

We made good time, completing a marathon distance in under 3 and a half hours, and we were delighted to see an actual buzzard hovering over Leighton Buzzard. There a real life rock band (Spring Offensive) joined the journey taking the total number of riders for the day to 16. They entertained us by playing most of their back catalogue both on the way out of Leighton Buzzard and back into it again. The 40 minute detour was a slight set back but once back on the road it was time to cruise into Hemel just after 7PM, our final destination.

An amazing and motivating day with really interesting people who'd joined in for all kinds of reasons, taking part in something both bonkers and worthy and as I laid my head on my pillow I could still feel my legs spinning round top speed.

If you see this big purple machine in your area in the next week, give them a honk or a cheerful wave and please give generously!

* we decided not as it might eat the cat.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Biking for boobs

Wednesday was a very happy day aboard the good ship Cobi, fuelled by more home baking than Delia’s kitchen sees in a year and accompanied by three giant boobs. Yes folks, three giant boobs – and that wasn’t just the new recruits. I’ll tell you about the boobs later.
Joining the bike at the Bull Ring was the Warwick university contingent of Gethin, Olly and Rach, Colin the cyclist and Jason the funny man. With four ladies at the pedals it was perhaps the girliest day of the expedition yet . There was the Rachel who I’ve already mentioned and who made us all laugh out loud when, as we groaned our way up a cheeky hill, exclaimed ‘Oh! I thought that because I was going backwards I had to pedal backwards too…’. No Rach, no. I had rejoined the team for a few days, eager for more conferencing after my yomping up and over the Lammiemuir Hills last week. Then there were the lovely twins, Kristin and Maren Hallenga, the bringer of tasty baking and giant boobs. ‘And why the boobs?’ I hear you say. Well, we took it turn to strap the boobs to our backs, much to the amusement and bemusement of passersby. And the boobs were brought along because our favourite twins are on a mission to encourage the men and women of Great Britain to be boob aware and to raise awareness of breast cancer, particularly in young women. A noble crusade for sure, and all the more impressive when I tell you that Kris is a Cancer Warrior. She is 24. Diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer last year, following two misdiagnoses, Kris is on a mission to make sure that the same thing doesn’t happen to other young women. So, if you haven’t ‘copped a feel’ for a little while, then get to it and spread the word. Check out Coppafeel! At for more information on being boob aware.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Psychic Cycling

It was sad to say goodbye to Stoke, I felt like I could have spent another good 5 minutes there seeing all the sites, but we didn't have 5 minutes to spare.
There were as many hills leaving as there had been arriving, Stoke really was in a big, big hole - hypothetically it would be quite easy to flood this hole and turn Stoke into a salmon farm.
We hit Stafford (we literally hit it with a big pole, it seemed the most sensible thing to do at the time) and Ed dived into Jessops to enquire about a new camera. This seemed like a good opportunity to charge his phone (remember this piece of information, it will be important later). After 20 minutes of expertise raping (I couldn't think of any other way to put this) Ed new the camera he wanted to left Jessops to buy it on EBay. Now you know what they say about Karma, not only is it a cracking curry, but it comes around as fast as it goes around (much like my bum sores).... yes you guessed it my intrepid readers, Ed left his phone in Jessops .... happily charging itself into pointless oblivion; as far as we know it is still there.
Pubs, pubs, glorious pubs, there is nothing quite like them for opening tubs? Feeding chubs? Good back rubs? If you can think of a better ending to that rhythm please email us (don't phone Ed he hasn't got a phone, it is in Jessops). We witnessed the great pub price war..... curry night; a curry, a pint and a packet of pork scratchings for £4.99, no, £4.95, hang on a minute £4.92 .... but the winner is £4.91.... it is great to see capitalism at work.
In tandem with curry night was psychic night, which is ironic because most of the pubs we saw had closed down ... they obviously didn't see it coming. Maybe the local psychics had a short sighted second sight .... They could predict when the chips for table 4 would arrive but not the bankruptcy of the landlord (this has led me to design psychic glasses, for short sighted psychics).

We stopped on a little hill overlooking Birmingham; it was covered in hypodermic needles (sometimes hypodermic needles are like London buses, you wait for one and 200 come along at once).
I helped a little old lady cross the road, and she disappeared into a wood with her rather heavy granny bag (for a split second I felt as though I was aiding and abetting a murderess .....)
Birmingham welcomed us with open legs!
we had a quick turnaround before heading to our Cancer Research tour – Ed will fill you in on what we learnt , but suffice to say we are becoming little cancer experts. We extracted DNA from a strawberry using washing up liquid, salt and ethanol, and we used some pretty hardcore pipettes to find protein markers.
We ate about 2 pizza’s each and then scooted to Sophie’s mum’s house where we helped her do a few odd jobs around the house – like painting the ceiling with our toes (ha-ha odd jobs).

Monday, 16 August 2010

Which way to Biddulph?

It was one of those mornings, where the sun was out and you know it’s going to stay out. I think we all lost about an armful of sweat; my bum became a gushing river (which reminded me of the strong laxatives I had to take for my colonoscopy). We all kept it light (our urine that is) by drinking lots of Juice Doctor and we ate plenty of milk chocolate (if it was good enough for Scott of the Antarctic then it is good enough for me…. Uh-oh)
Today was the day of the tail-backs, and we had some longer than Tony Blair’s nose. Kim said we should see the queues of car more like a carnival parade, and this made us all feel much better. But we still decided to get off the main roads and do a bit of windy country lane scenic cycling. I saw a sign for Congleton, it was 5 miles away. Over the next hour I saw another 7 or 8 signs for Congleton, all hovering between the 4 1/2 and 6 mileage – it seemed like we were going round in ever decreasing circles so we got back onto the main drag (but at least we got to go on a footballer’s wife safari).
It was a Spice Girls/Dolly Parton themed ride, which I know Elliot just adored (he really belted out ‘I will always love you ‘). The musical accompaniment was vital to our hill climbing, which was lucky because the hills came thicker and faster than we would have liked, and they even took us through a town called Burnage, which left a bitter taste of irony in our mouths.
At around 3.40pm we entered the seemingly innocent sounding Biddulph, which later became the Biddulph triangle – a scary place where nothing is as it seems. Biddulph is a virus town, which appeared to eat every other populous in it’s path …… ‘Welcome to Biddulph’ …. ‘Welcome to Biddulph’ ….. ‘WELCOME TO BIDDULPH’ ….. you could arrive but never leave.
Eventually however (after 45 minutes) we did leave by following Mick Kent’s driving instructor car …. We even gave him a quick phone call to check it really was Mick, and he gave us a wave.
If we thought Biddulph was bad, it was small-fry compared to Stoke; Stoke is not one place, it is a collection of 6 interconnected towns …. Like the Crystal Maze, but without mumsy. Stoke also appeared to go up and down, both geographically and socially …. We encountered quite the brawl outside a bike shop which elicited a 5 police car response. We kept our heads down and tried to look as inconspicuous as possible, letting out a united chorus of ‘Hey up Duckie’ to appear local.
We decided to beg for lawn space at the Premier Inn behind the Britannia Stadium, and they graciously answered our cries for help. There was something quite soothing about going to sleep to the sound of the rattling Stoke ring road.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The E-Manc-ipation of Miss CoBi

Sleeping past 6.30 was more of a struggle than a luxury, but somehow we managed to stay in bed until 8.30. The night before we had been indulged with a luxury sports massage; a cocktail of pure pleasure and pain potent enough to make the Marquis De Sade blush. The masseur, who went by the unassuming name of Terence, was anything but unassuming, especially with his pummelling fisting on my quads. I writhed, I screamed, I begged for mercy and cried for my mum but after ½ an hour the ordeal ended, the room came back into focus and I felt 100% better.
This morning however my legs pulsed like a supernova and wobbled more than Amy Whinehouse. Terence had foretold this ‘healing process’ so I popped a couple of Coedine and soldiered on.
Breakfast was delicious; I had eggs Benedict, 2 chocolate croissants, fresh orange juice and coffee. It hit the notoriously difficult to find culinary g-spot made so famous by Deep Throats 1 and 2. This was all thanks to the utterly gorgeous Abode Hotel, who were putting us up for two nights free of charge.
We had an 11 o’clock appointment at the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research Centre next door to the Christie Hospital. We were greeted by James, who explained that the Institute conducts all levels of research, from basic research (Which looks at the causes of cancer and the way it works), to transitional research (Looking at how these findings can be applied to specific cancers) and finally clinical research (How this can be developed into treatments and used most effectively). The Institute has a number of leading specialists, in fields such as imaging (Building microscopes) meaning all the resources necessary are on hand and researchers travel from far and wide to work there and use the facilities. James then took us up to the labs where we were given an awesome demonstration by the awesomely enthusiastic Marisa. She took us through an explanation of the work undertaken by Paul Nurse, Leland Hartwell and Tim Hunt that won them the Nobel Prize in 2001. They were looking at the regulation of cell division in yeast, which is used for genetic studies because of its speedy reproduction and simple genetic structure. The explanation culminated in a demonstration using apples and onions, which represented different gene types, with mutations and without. A copy of the presentation will be available to download from the blog soon.
We were then taken further upstairs by Bill, who showed us an outline of the work he does on his whiteboard (Next to a rosette he’d won for some particularly good research). This included his six step plan for eliminating cancer which was:
1.Identify (something that works)
2.Test in vitro
3.Test in vivo
4.Clinical Trials
5.Cure cancer
6.Go Home
His task is at the identification stage, where his team will seek to specifically knock out or over express a cell’s function in order to stop it acting or becoming cancerous. A compound that can replicate this effect is then created by the drug development team and this can then be used in trials, firstly in the lab and then if this works in a clinical environment. We then looked at some of the tissue samples that he’s working with. The cancer cells are immortalised, so some of them have been around for many years. We looked at the cells of a Japanese boy who had had leukaemia in 1983 but there are some tissue cultures that have been around since the 1950s. We finished up with lunch in the director’s office overlooking the new clinical trials wing of the Christie which will be the largest of its kind in Europe. Having it so close to the Institute where the research is being done has huge benefits and it was excellent to have effectively seen all stages of the research process.
After taking the researchers for a quick spin on Miss CoBi, we attempted to storm the world famous Manchester Caribbean festival, but the burly security guard drew our attention to a notice on the entrance gate which read ‘No bikes’ – we could have made quite a convincing argument refuting Miss CoBi’s bike status but it didn’t really seem worth the bloodshed.
We focused on three main areas of Manchester – The Printworks (Italian tourists and shopaholics) Piccadilly Gardens (tramps and families) and Canal Street (homosexuals and disorientated Russians). It was lovely to have such a heady mix of people. There is something quite draining about drunk people but on the plus side they are incredibly generous so we couldn’t really complain, and it was wonderful to have real queens who could actually pull off the royal wave which had eluded us so far.
Our 2 days in Manchester were nearly over, and they would not have been so glorious, indeed the whole ride might not have happened, had it not been for our project manager Sophie. She fed us both nights, and her boyfriend made two beautiful puddings, we really do owe her a massive thank you.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Sticking it to the Manchester

We felt fresh as fresh as Daisy the pantomime cow; Ed, Kate, Phil and I left Paris sleeping (we didn’t want to wake her) and hop scotched over to Leeds station, led by Ian, who takes a laid back approach to his cycling on his recumbent bike. Today was an unofficial and slightly impromptu fancy dress affair, with Andy Fallon dressed as Darth Vader and Matt Senior wearing a massive afro wig. Not to be outdone Kate Brown donned her star spangled leggings, I slipped into my Timmy Mallet shell-suit jacket and Ed wore a codpiece (either that or his bum was sorer than we thought).
Hester was our birthday girl, so Miss CoBi gave her a little present between the thighs and we sang the more conventional happy birthday. We followed this with about 17 verses of ‘Ilkley Moor Bar Tat’ and attempted ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’, but we got stuck somewhere in the treacle.
Not that we were tiring of the conversation, but we took a vote and unanimously agreed that a radio would be a useful addition to the bike… I think everyone had visions of us zooming up hills listening to ‘Eye of the Tiger’. Argos was kind enough to donate a little shower radio, but the thing about little shower radios is that they are little and belong in showers… If we stopped the bike and cocked our ears we could make out what was either lady Gaga or ET making a phone call home. More often than not it just provided shower sound effects.
I can’t say Huddersfield was beautiful but leaving it was, and as we climbed out of the valley, we entered a landscape littered with skeletons of our recent industrial history. Dark satanic mills towered over the hills, criss-crossed with canals and patchworks of railway lines knotted about ominous houses made for Heathcliff and Kathy.
Coming down from Sadleworth Moor Ed and I made a slight error – we both take full responsibility but I blame Ed entirely. Somehow the brakes were left locked on as we speedily descended and the result was;
a) We slowed down considerably on the flat
b) Several riders commented on the strange smell of burning
c) I saw smoke
d) I realised the brakes were on fire
e) We stopped
f) We poured water on the breaks and they sizzled for 5 minutes
There is only one way to get over such a disaster, and that is to visit the village of Uppermill on Yanks Day. Basically the whole village goes back in time to the 1940’s and pretend they are in war-time England. Literally everyone dresses the part, and most of the men have a replica rifle slung over their shoulders, while the women drape foxes round their necks. Little army jeeps zoomed down the street, and pubs spilled out with jiving and jazz. The only downside was the two men who had opted for SS uniforms… It’s good they’re supporting the tourism industry by holidaying in Greater Manchester but Harry and William really should know better.
As we rolled into Manchester a strange phenomena occurred; the sun came out. This is most unusual for Manchester which like Mordor of Lord of the Rings fame, it is most often enveloped by dark swirling clouds of doom. It seems as we approach our half-way point, someone, somewhere, is smiling down on us.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Following Up Some Promising Leeds...

After a lovely night’s sleep at the lovely Foxhill Caravan Park owned by the lovely Carl and Kath Fawcett, disturbed only by a bit of rain and a slight family disagreement in one of the neighbouring tents, we showered and shaved and set off back to York.
Throughout the morning we gathered together the rest of the cast of Last of the Summer Wine from various parts of York and Yorkshire, with Jack taking on the role of Norah Batty keeping everyone in check. Lovely Cath, of Morpeth to Darlington fame, cooked us a wonderful virtually vegetarian breakfast (Keith had to have his bacon though). Then we headed back to Get Cycling where lots of men, led by head mechanic Neil, had their greasy hands all over Miss CoBi. Thankfully she seemed to be enjoying the attention to her universal joint, freewheel and back brake calliper and soon (OK, five hours later, she has been working hard), she was back to her beautiful best.
It did mean we were leaving York a little later than planned but we had a good team on board. We left York at 3.30 and arrived in Leeds at 7.05 which was pretty good going, in fact possibly one fastest times yet. We might have been slightly quicker had it not been for the T’ Sat Nav: Yorkshire edition, which was six locals having an emotional discussion, complete with hand gestures, to guide me through a one-way system to rival a chaste Christian girl.
Eventually we made it to the station and said our goodbyes. Ed’s Cousin Kate arrived on the train, then she, Phil, Miss CoBi and we headed for the Hilton, where we all hit the sauna and steam room … Paris had very kindly decided to let us stay for free, but her busy filming schedule meant neither herself or the chihuahua were able to have a ride on Miss CoBi. We got a great take away pizza and I necked a glass of wine… We returned to our swish room to eat it all while watching News Night.

Chris, who was riding with us has posted his own account of today here:

Thanks Chris!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

A Nibble of Yorkie

We crept out of Billy’s campsite like a mouse from it’s hole and drove back to Darlington station. We were off the blocks out of Darlington faster than Usain Bolt (I think we had sampled all that Darlington had to offer) and set a course for York.
Maybe it was the company, the sunshine or perhaps the Jelly Babies but the conversation suddenly lurched away from idle sexual chit chat towards more intelligent things; positive discrimination at the BBC, the bi-polar nature of the media and whether a Jaffa Cake is really a cake, and what about Fig Rolls?
We popped into Northallerton, famous for being the birth place of Edward Grieg, but even more famous for it’s glamorous rolls. I don’t want to bore you with the finer details, but I ordered 2 tuna and sweet corn rolls … WITH ALL THE SALAD …. Each roll must have weighed 2 stone, and we got 2 packets of crisps and 2 cans of coke, all for the sum of £3.80... You wouldn’t get a glass of water that cheap in London.
Today we took over the airwaves – Ed did an interview live from the bike for BBC radio Tees – I made much merriment by swerving the bike around trying to put him off, and Sophie our PM was on Radio Minster (she is like Margaret Thatcher but pretty and nice).
We passed the white horse – that is all to say about that really ….. I mean what more can you say about a giant white horse chiselled into a chalk hillside? It’s not going to win the national is it?
Miss CoBi suddenly took on the superhuman powers we always knew she secretly harboured. The sight screen at the local cricket club had been blown over in a freak squall. But we came to the rescue and pulled it back upright; now, thanks to Miss CoBi the batsman will always have sight of the bowler's balls.
With only 25 minutes notice the lovely Daryl Lardner invited us all round for tea when we went through the village of Tollerton, setting up a stall of juice, hotdrinks and biscuits that would take a village fete committee a year to organise. We then took his son Will on a seven seater paper round.
We flew on into York but then stopped in a lay-by to let the rush hour traffic go by. It was here we met a very pessimistic burger wagon man who told us it would take over an hour to ride the 3 miles into York and we would probably get stung by wasps. I am pleased to tell you that it took about 20 minutes to get into York and no one got stung (not by a wasp at least).
We got to the Minster and caused quite a stir, interrupting all the ghost tours and tea parties... Apparently Henry the 8th used to pedal his 6 wives around on a CoBi bike, there’s a fact for you.
We pulled into the Fox hill campsite at about 8, not before picking up some homemade chilli from the beautiful Daisy (she was going to make us beef curry but put too much coriander in); Ed had his first shower in 4 days and we went to bed (much tastier).

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Do you fancy any Morpeth cycling my Darlington?

Today was supposed to be Newcastle to North Allerton but it turned into Morpeth to Darlington... but we had a good team and we were hoping to make up lost time which would put us in a good position to get back on schedule for our arrival in York tomorrow.

After the very late night and torrential rain we all woke a little groggy... not helped by the dead body we saw on our way to pick-up volunteers at Newcastle station. This could have been a bad omen, but the smiling faces and fresh meat not only reminded me of my days in The Lebanon but also gave us a good injection of optimism

We had a brilliant run out of Morpeth, and the lovely farmer man met us with the new lights and whistles for the trailer (it now sparkled brighter than a Parisian brothel). We passed the Wide Open Dental Practice (we hoped to see the Wide Open Gynaecology Unit, but it just wasn’t to be) and a garage that promised ‘The Best Hand Job in Town’ (it left me disappointed).

I steered us into Newcastle, changing lanes faster than a rubber bowling ball... We got into the university for a talk and tour with the director of the institute. It was very interesting, inspiring and encouraging; we even got to see a very, very big laser which sorts different types of cells into pots.

As we came out of Newcastle we entered nail bar town and tanning Ville... It was about this time that we started telling rather disgusting jokes involving camels. In fact the tone for the rest of the day was set to smut, smut, smut... but as the Angel of the North came into view we all held our poisonous tongues and stared irreverently at her beautiful rear.

Sadly today we encountered an accident... Some silly bugger was spending too much time checking us out in his wing mirror and he slammed into the car in front …. Luckily no one was hurt but I would have loved to have heard the insurance claim ‘this big purple seven seater circular bike came out of nowhere...’

We passed round the bum cream to keep everyone lubricated …. I’m worried that it used to be white and now it’s brown... I think that is ok though don’t you, and we drunk Juice Doctor Cocktails... we even started playing drinking games with Juice Doctor... for instance if anyone mentioned the word ‘hill’ they had to take a swig…… sometimes you just have to make your own fun kids!

Darlington shone in the evening sun, and she looked right pretty, aye she did... we stopped at the train station (it was quite busy, as everyone appeared to be leaving).

The campsite was a heaven among campsites... It was made up of ‘luxury static homes’ with names like The Vogue and Swift Jesus (I might have made the last one up, but it is a good name for a pimped up caravan in’t it!). It wasn’t raining + there were hot showers, and a washing machine/tumble dryer which = happy campers... and to top it all off our neighbour for the night invited us in for a brew and let us sit at his table to eat some fine Fish and Chips, maybe Jesus had been swift with his arrival after all!

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Guard us against the Coldstream

Duns greeted us with the type of shower that none of us wanted or needed. Ian's night had been disturbed by some Duns youths posing on the bike at 1am but he'd scared them off with a quick flash (of the van lights).

Our first stop of the day was Coldstream - it really lived up to it's name in that it was very cold and practically a giant stream (rain, rain, go away come again another day .... another day after the 29th August when we are not cycling a seven seater circular bike from John O'Groats to Land's End).

Miss CoBi needed a good old fashioned steam clean .... we tried to get her into the local sauna, but they were very prejudicial towards her size (a topic for loose woman perhaps?). Luckily the kind man from the Mercedes garage offered us his garage and lots of tea. I was told off for using my mobile phone next to a petrol pump.... something about causing an explosion ... who'd have thought?

Just before lunch we crossed the river Tweed into blighty (an old Indian word meaning home) .... there was a very small sign partially hidden by a thorn bush saying 'welcome to England’.... with a bit of rock clabering it made the prefect spot for a photo op!

Suddenly the traffic got worse, we saw less smiles and the rain drove harder and faster than Jenson Button - AND IN THOSE FIELDS IN ACINET TIMES IT WAS REALLY MUDDY AND RUBBISH.

We picked up the lovely Sam and Simon, brother-in-laws not civil partners. They joined us just before the electrical storm ... how dangerous can fork lightening be, we were only travelling in the open air with 200kg of steel wearing nylon very close to our crotch.

We found that games helped to get us through the day, and inclement weather (it went from hot to cold quicker than one of those hot/cold single taps). My fave was I’m thinking of something beginning with...... I kept everyone on tenter hooks for the best part of an hour with Sagittarius.

We had to do a bit of improvising which meant to dinner stop-off in Long Horsley at
The Shoulder of Mutton pub; a cracking gentleman found out what we were doing and brought us all drinks and food - it is that kind of generosity which really takes the sting out of long, cold, wet days.

We did a little twilight cycling, but decided we needed flashing lights and a banner so Ed's dad used his contacts in the Worshipful Company of Farmers and sorted us one out. The only downside was it meant a 45 min van journey to Alnwick, then an hour to Newcastle to pick-up Keith (he had been waiting 4 hours at the train station) and then 20 mins to the camp site. It was 12.30 by the time we got to bed, and the ever familiar rain had made us less rising and more damp.... this was a low-point for me.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Beyond the 'Burgh

Our trip to our start-point was somewhat hampered by an accident ironically involving a cyclist... It made me thankful for Miss Cobi’s tank-like build.

We were met by James, a guy who loves to laugh; Sarah Outen who was the first woman to sail across the Indian Ocean solo, the lovely French Marion and Aaron... ask me about Aaron another time...

The two guys who lived in Edinburgh didn’t really know how to get us out of it, which led to 5 miles of pointless costal road cycling…. Grrrr… and we ended up on the Edinburgh bypass but were quickly apprehended by the highway patrol but luckily they didn’t report us as a near miss.

Aaron collapsed on the trailer after 2 hours and spent the rest of the day sleeping in the van, which was useful. The rest of us carried on, and decided Town Yetholm was a silly destination and Coldstream would be much more sensible ….. this would take us over the border hills, but how hard could they be?

They were 10 miles in 3 hours sort of hard in the driving rain, competing with landrovers, road kill and cow shit. Ian would drive on ahead then run back to give us some extra push ….. he was our hero (did I mention how Aaron just sat in the van). This was tough stuff, even James didn’t always see the funny side but we sang most of Queen’s back catalogue and that just about kept us wanting to ride our bicycle.

Unluckily a rabbit’s foot jumped up from the wheel and hit Sarah in the face, this was followed by her lower legs being covered in a lot of cow shit which I drove through a wee bit fast.

We had lost a lot of time, and decided to change our destination again and head for Duns ….. but the last 10 or so miles were downhill... God must have woken up and decided to give us a break... I’m now a born again Christian. There's no doubt Jesus would have enjoyed Miss CoBi, though he would have needed two ... for Him, the disciples and Mary Magdalene.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Smiles on the Mile

I’m not sure if it was the ‘Roam Service’ emergency STD clinic support card we found outside the tent, the heavy panting Ed and I had heard in the night and had innocently assumed was each other having a rather racy dream, or the 100 or so condoms littered around us, but it turned out we had camped in Edinburgh’s most prolific cruising area... We made a sharp exit (as opposed to an entry) and headed to showers and breakfast with Ed’s parents before zooming over to the mile for some bucket rattling.

The festival was buzzing and I took great pleasure in steering a 200kg beast through the throngs of people... for 3 or so hours we owned the royal mile. We had acrobats on board, zombies, Queen Elizabeth the 1st (deflowered) , all great fun, none of whom could act, but hey that’s what the Fringe is all about isn’t it?

The brilliant Jeff Leach helped us out for a while, and he exploited the bike for the big purple, throbbing babe magnet that it is ….. this led to a troupe of dancer’s getting on board for some baton swirling. We even had a brass band riding the bike while blasting out some famous brass band tunes.

The sun shone, and we forgot all about the early morning crusing; we think we raised lots of money which is all we could have hoped for and we even had a real life bedroom for the night (we will have to save the Boots lube for another day.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Dundee Done

What an exciting day... It felt like I was heading home, not that I have lived in Edinburgh but I do love it; the castle, the sea, the mountains, the festival... Why wouldn’t you want to live there? Oh yes, the winter!!! In theory though, it’s now the Scottish summer. Last year it apparently lasted a whole Tuesday but this year we’ve pretty lucky and we hoped the weather could do us proud again.

We packed up and set-off for the station, where we found 6 people waiting for us… To think that yesterday we’d struggled with only 4 of us for most of the way, and we now had 10 cyclists for the day and another 4 joining us at various points further down the road, was something special. With us from the station were husband and wife Mark and Fiona, brothers-in-law Jeff and Stewart, Tay FM DJ Alison and Mercedes from Peru.

Derek guided us expertly across the Tay Bridge, where they closed the barriers to let us get ahead of the traffic and then kept the left hand lane closed as they escorted Miss Cobi and the support vehicle across. The team then made good progress to Balmullo, where the Baldwins had very kindly laid on bacon and sausage butties. After getting an ample helping of pork inside us, purchasing a copy of the Daily Record to check out our picture and taking a couple of spins around the car park we set off again with Simon and John on board the bike and three younger members of the CoBi team, Martha, Fiona and Sorrel, in the van. While their parents pedalled away Jack pulled out every trick in the book to keep the kids entertained as the minibus trundled slowly along. Full scripts, lyrics, instruction manuals and rules are available on request for: Francois the French Fish Sock Puppet, The Wheels on the Bus VII, The Pretend to Eat Something Game, Build a Zoo and Banana. This kept everyone on the bus happy until we reached Muddy Boots Farm, where the first thing to be done was to run out, climb the fence and jump on the giant inflatable trampoline. This was what I did anyway; the kids were slightly more restrained. Muddy Boots is a play farm with plenty to do as well as jump on the inflatable trampolines but for a while all the attention was on Miss CoBi. Then it was time to be on our way once more. The farm very kindly donated a toilet brush holder, a money box and some salt and pepper pots all in the shape of, you guessed it, wellington boots.

We kept a good aim for the Forth Bridge, and could see Arthur’s Seat glistening once the sun came out (Our seats were glistening too, after we stopped off at Leslie’s Cycles and they very kindly donated, among other things, two big tubs of chamois cream). We popped into Gordon and Sarah’s for a cup of tea where the sad news came over the radio – Mumbo and Daddo had missed their flight from Norway and wouldn’t be able to meet us in Edinburgh – Ed’s lip quivered but he put on a brave face and carried us forward with real gusto. But just as we got onto the Forth Bridge, who do you think we saw waiting for us? I’m not going to patronise you, I’m sure you’ve guessed... Ed broke down in hysterics (don’t worry I have it all caught on camera).

Going across the Forth Bridge, was, is and will always be a highlight, not just of the ride but I think of our life, and it meant we were only 10 miles from Edinburgh. We popped down into the very posh and very beautiful Qeensferry to make some honest hard cash before the final push into the city. We picked up 4 girls going for a night out, which meant we had 11 on the bike!!!

Much to our amazement we weren’t allowed to camp in Princess Street gardens, but we found a glorious and secluded spot just by a monument to Robert Burns. In the morning we found that this seclusion had not been lost on a number of other people who had made full use of the nearby shrubs.

Friday, 6 August 2010

We're in Glensheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet

Rise and shine campers (it was already raining) – we knew we had another madcap climb up to yet another Scottish ski slope so we set off early, kidnapping almost 60 year old Margaret from the hotel along the way; she likes to do a different challenge every year, and this year she chose us, thank goodness we were passing through.
Another indication, if any were needed, that we are not professional cyclists, came just before we climbed Glenshee. Apparently, like kilts, you’re not supposed to wear any underwear with padded cycling shorts, so Derek informed us. Ed and I stripped off by a babbling brook and discarded our pants. Derek gave us some magic bottom potion which basically acts like a local anaesthetic and we were on our way (Margaret was more reluctant to remove her knickers).
Scotland seems quite competitive about how steep it’s hills are, and the locals take some satisfaction from dropping the bomb shell that their hill is steeper, harder, rougher, wetter, colder, deadlier, flirtier, scarier, and generally the worst hill since Benny (if I could include music here it would be the Benny Hill comedy chase music, and you would see us going up and down hills in fast motion with scantily clad girls on board and a lecherous red-faced old man chasing us – oh the good old days of comedy).
Yesterday we had the Lecht and today we had Glenshee – it was a different sort of challenge; we very gradually climbed out of Braemar for about 6/7 miles before it suddenly lurched up into the clouds. Maybe it was the lack of oxygen or that we were so close to heaven, but I could swear I saw might late grandmother laughing at us from on top of a mountain.
Margaret was really pleased to make the climb, and we were very proud of her for doing it; her friends drove by and rescued her from our steely grip and we sat down and fried some bacon by a toilet. We contemplated the fact that there were now 4 of us, the famous 4, the incredible 4, the 4 CoBi bikers of the apocalypse.
I won’t bore you with details, but the to sum up the general gist of the next 7 hours in four factoids, in no particular order:
1. A mixture of feeling very cold and very sweaty, in menopausal waves
2. Some beautiful strawberries thrown at us from the side of the road
3. Photographers making us go up hills we had already been up
4. 7 eager young lads from an outdoor activity centre commandeering the bike for an hour

When we got into Dundee we headed for the university for a guided tour of the Cancer Research centre; the lovely Inka showed us round – she looked like a young Jamie Lee Curtis and I told her so. We saw protein cultures being mixed; chicken embryo’s in the cool room and lots of flies in jars. Bliss. Ian, who works as a researcher there, said that the biking message is an important part of the overall fight against cancer. Our lifestyles are a major contributing factor to the continued high incidence of cancer across the UK. We can take action to beat cancer everyday by cycling, walking, swimming and exercising more and by eating better.

The other key message that the team had was about colon cancer, which is fast becoming a major killer among men of 50 and over. If there’s one thing you take away from the blog, let it be this: Don’t be embarrassed about talking about your backside (We certainly haven’t been on this ride), get down to your local health authority and find out what their screening procedure is. It’s a simple exercise and if they find polyps (Small lumps) in your colon early, they’re simple to remove. A surgeon from Ninewells said it was very frustrating that people put up with problems for months or years, when getting them checked could have saved their lives.

If you want to find out more info about the work that the Dundee centre do, have a look at the previous post.

After saying our goodbyes we then headed back to the Baldwins where I was reunited with Rocky the cat … we consummated our love with stroking and purring then we went to sleep, again (these days follow a similar pattern don’t they?)


On Thursday February 4 Dundee became Scotland’s first link in a unique chain of Cancer Research UK Centres that are being launched across the UK. The launch of the Dundee Centre coincided with World Cancer Day.

These new cancer centres will draw together world class research and medical expertise to provide the best possible results for cancer patients nationwide.

As the first centre in Scotland, the Dundee Cancer Research UK Centre will help set the pace for national and international progress in bowel, breast and skin cancer. It will build on Dundee’s world class research in the areas of radiotherapy and surgery by focussing on new highly advanced image-guided surgical techniques. The Centre will also lead to the development of an international hub for research into the most serious type of skin cancer (melanoma), making new discoveries in basic cell biology then helping to translate those into new treatments.

Collaboration is the key to the success of the Centre which will enable researchers who do not normally work together to exchange ideas and information more easily. It now brings together researchers and support from University of Dundee, Cancer Research UK and the NHS Tayside.

Professor Irene Leigh, Head of the College of Medicine, Dentistry and Nursing and chair of the board of the new centre, said: “This is a very exciting development for cancer research in Scotland. The new centre will help us bring together a variety of researchers and clinicians to collaborate and work together to improve the lives of cancer patients across Scotland. By building closer links between scientists and doctors we want to increase the pace of research, leading to improved treatments for patients."

The Centre aims to be a world leader in developing treatments tailored to individual cancer patients based on understanding the biology of the disease and how that varies among patients.

Cancer Research UK already supports research in Dundee but is set to increase its contribution to over £7.5m a year to help develop the Centre.

Professor Peter Downes, Principal of the University of Dundee, said: "The award of Cancer Centre status is the combination of years of effort building world class basic research into the underlying mechanisms of cancer alongside the clinical research needed to translate new knowledge into improved treatment of disease. It exemplifies our strategy to ensure research has a positive impact on society.”

Edinburgh launched its own centre on the 16th June. The Edinburgh Cancer Research UK Centre will help set the pace for national and international progress in bowel, breast and ovarian cancers. The Centre will build on Edinburgh’s world class research into the genetics and biology of cancer, as well as researching and developing new ways to treat the diseases. Edinburgh becomes the second Centre in Scotland after Dundee launched the first Centre earlier this year.

Scientists at the Centre will also work on tackling the problem of cancer cells spreading (metastases), and developing resistance to drugs, in order to find ways to prevent these common and life-threatening problems.

Collaboration is the key to the success of the Centre which will enable researchers to exchange ideas and information more easily. It brings together researchers and clinicians with support from Cancer Research UK, the University of Edinburgh and the NHS Lothian.

The Centre aims to be a world leader in developing treatments tailored to individual cancer patients based on understanding the biology of the disease and how treatments work, and how these may vary between patients.

Professor David Cameron, professor of Oncology and Head of NHS Lothian Cancer Services, and the Clinical Director of the new Centre, said: “This is a very exciting development for cancer patients and for research in Scotland. The new Centre will help researchers and clinicians to collaborate and work together to improve the lives of cancer patients across Lothian and Scotland. By building closer links between scientists and doctors we want to increase our knowledge about cancer and speed up the pace of research, leading to improved treatments for patients."

Susan Oliver, 58 from Dalkeith, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2005 and went into remission after six months of chemotherapy. But when her cancer returned a year later she was given the chance to take part in a new clinical trial at the Edinburgh Western General called PARP 1 inhibitor. Susan took four capsules twice a day while her health was closely monitored with regular trips to hospital for tests.

She said: "I knew it wouldn’t cure my cancer, but the trial has given me two wonderful and healthy years to enjoy and I am so grateful for the opportunity to add to our understanding of cancer and improve the way future patients are treated. The trial might have had serious side effects, or it might have done me no good at all. But it was an opportunity worth taking and I knew that I was in very safe hands here in Edinburgh."

Cancer Research UK already supports research in Edinburgh but is set to increase its contribution to over £5.6million a year to help develop the Centre.

Professor Sir John Savill, Head of the College of Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, said: "I am delighted that the University of Edinburgh is being joined by our closest partners, NHS Lothian, in this exciting new collaboration with Cancer Research UK. This will ensure that research will feed through into improved cancer care as quickly as possible."

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "Huge progress has been made in beating cancer since the charity was formed and we’re determined to carry on. Funding these centres of excellence is one of the charity's priorities and will enable us to work towards the goals we have set to improve the treatment and survival of cancer patients. But we continue to welcome the generous donations we receive from the public to ensure we can continue to build on what we have started today."

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Universal Joint Ache

Right, where do we start? What a day... Ok, well maybe it is best I start at the end... dum, dum, dum... We did make it to Braemar – so however bad it sounds, we did make it, alright? You got me? Good! Now back to the beginning ……
We woke up in high spirits, to proper porridge (you add the milk after) and went to the Town Centre. We picked up an RAF Physical Training Instructor called Andy and the senior endurance cyclist David (Both joining us thanks to Colin. Thanks, again Colin). Literally 50 metres into the day a lady called Anna hopped on – it is so lovely that people just decide to drop everything and join us for an adventure into the unknown.
It was after about 3 or 4 miles that the bracket holding up the universal joint started to rattle (I know I sound like Terry Pratchet but this is serious mechanical language). We popped a ratchet on it, used a tin can to cover the sharp edges, and applied actual medical bandages. This kept her steady up some very sharp, very quick 1:5 hills (that is a 20% gradient to you and me) out of the Bridge of Brown; it was at this point that I nearly died, but I saw no white light, no long tunnel, only a pick-up truck with 3 RAF personal who had heard the call for help from Colin and threw their hats into the ring – we were saved!
Expert cyclist David thought it was best to sort out the loose bracket before the whole thing fell apart. He called some welder’s he knew and we headed a few long, clanky miles to Tomatuil where Miss CoBi had the first of the days many ‘once overs’ from Charlie Skeen. Now ‘fixed’ we began heading for the Lecht - Scotland’s highest ski resort. I think everyone felt nervous, David took on the role of Meryl Streep in ‘River Wild’ and talked us through the terrain. My stomach lurched, and so did Ed’s, so we took 2 rolls of loo roll and went for a poo in the woods, I think we are well and truly bonded for life now. If I had lost all but one finger in a freak cycling accident, then I could count on one hand the number of people I have shat in the woods with.
Then we began the climb – this was serious stuff, we were actually taking 200kg of bike up to a ski slope using only our legs and the powers of our mind. Just as we were about the reach the summit, and I am talking only about 10 metres away, the bracket which had been worrying us all day snapped off and the universal chain buckled. We had to get off and push.
This could have been a disaster for the trip. But luckily remote ski slopes need welders, and we found just our man, Nick. He yanked Miss CoBi up with a chain (she likes the kinky stuff) and he grinded her, screwed her and welded her. I began popping Diacalm for my stomach; it was full of morphine and made me feel much more optimistic.
Once we got Miss CoBi on the road she seemed like a new woman. My god she went well, and as we came off the Lecht, no word of a lie, we got her up to 40mph. We thought that was it, the worst over, but for the next three ours we climbed and fell more times than an arthritic monkey. By 4pm we were only just over half-way... Would we make it to Braemar (well you know we did because I told you at the beginning, which was actually the end before the beginning).
At last we came out of the hills and onto what senior cyclist David called the long 9 miles into Braemar. It was long, very long, and it was flat, very flat. David started performing Pete and Dudd sketches, and I sang Monty Python songs. This spurred everyone on to the finish, so we would shut up.
The 2 mile gap between the welcome sign for Breamar and the centre of Breamar demonstrated how the Scots like to take the p**s! We were welcomed by a piper (this is actually true and there are pictures and a video to prove it).
We said goodbye to the RAF guys and girls, and bowed before cycling legend David (Who, it must be remembered, is going to be cycling 400km on Saturday). We then met Stewart and Derek the next day’s riders – sometimes it is as if we have 100’s of Dr Who’s regenerating everyday... One rider turns into another and so on.
We camped in the tourist information centre’s garden. Sometimes you just have to set-up your tent and sleep.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Grantown on Spey-back Time

We woke to the sound of roosting birds and barking dogs. I said farewell to the stuffed gazelle head, and said if he was ever in Brixton he should pop by for an Absinthe. Robbie and Freddie Swift were up and raring to go. They looked a little sleepy, but nothing 10 minutes riding on Miss CoBi couldn’t sort out – she is a cruel mistress.
I had weetabix for the first time in years, which was such a treat, and then one quick peek at what we were told is the ‘best bog in Britain’ (it is an open air latrine overlooking the hills) before we drove down to Inverness.
We met Colin at the station with his 9 year old daughter called Mhary (Pronounced Varry but I kept calling her Barry which was most embarrassing). We rode out on Inverness and started up quite a hard ascent, but it was made all the more interesting by Chris organising the hay baling on his mobile phone, ‘You know where we put the bales yesterday? Yes? Well flipping (Other words may have been used) well put the other ones there today’ (Little Barry... cough... Mahry took it all in her stride). Somehow the power of what my mother calls ‘extraordinarily long legs’ (I’m 5ft 10”) managed to break one of the free-wheels which meant we had lost the power of one pair of legs. This is hopefully a problem that can be fixed when we get to Edinburgh.
We picked up a rugby playing lad called Euan just back from Kenya (He had seen many CoBi bikes grazing in the savannah so he wasn’t too fazed) and he helped us take Miss CoBi up to the Sloch... This was hard to say the least, to say the most it was bloody hard. We then cruised down an old stretch of the A9 and picked up another young guy who went by the rather bizarre name of Richard, which meant we were actually oversubscribed – so Ed and myself could have a wee ½ hour or so rest in the van – but we both pined for the chafing leather of Miss CoBi between our thighs and we soon back on board.
The people of Grantown where great and everyone dug deep into their pockets for the cause. It is so rewarding that after such an effort people really appreciate what we are doing!
We stayed with the wonderful Fay and Allen and the Parkburn Guest House; we thought one of us might have to sleep in the van, but Fay offered us another room for free and an extra special breakfast – it was at this point I kissed her bang on the lips and swung her round in a Highland fling.
We still needed riders for the morning, so we headed to the local RAF activity centre and they put the word out for us, and a 61 year old cycling veteran got in touch and said he wanted to give us a hand as a warm-up for his 400k timed ride on August 7th.
We finished the day with a traditional Scottish curry (not the best choice as you will see tomorrow) and Ed took the traditional late night drive back to wherever he came from to pick-up whatever it was he had forgotten.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Stars of STV

It was sad to leave Invergordon, it was the first place where people were competing to have us pitch the tent in their garden. Willie didn’t rise in the morning (oi oi) but his daughter saw us off (oi oi – no that doesn’t quite work does it!).

The guy we met in the pub the night before, who had promised to join us, didn’t turn up. I suppose that is a lesson learnt – don’t trust people who have had a few drams , ‘oh Yes, I will get up at 5am and ride a seven seater bike to Inverness, no problem, oh aye, lets make it 3am …. Hey let’s go now’.

We went past a nudist colony ; lots of beautiful creatures laid out on the rocks by the oil rigs covered in blubber – I have never seen so many seals. It was the perfect place to have our bacon sarnies. I put on my pinnie ; a woman’s work is never done ; so I did it instead.

We crossed the Cromarty bridge and then begun the steep, steady climb up, up, up, up, up, up and up some more. It was very hard work, but at the summit we got a glorious reward – a couple of loaves of Bread from Harry Gowe who was parked in the layby, what more could we ask for? (Well as it happens a bread knife would have helped, but hey hoe).

We accidentally got onto a dual carriageway, like you do, but don’t worry , a shout out from Moray Firth Radio had everyone honking their horns (oi, oi – OK boring now).

The ride down into Inverness was quite hairy, like a big brown bear, but Scottish TV filmed us just before we crossed the Inverness Bridge which was great, because it went out on the evening news and has been a real boost

We arrived in Inverness before midday which was a great effort, and meant we had lots of time to play the casino’s , take a Sauna and have a Scottish Cholonic (using haggis instead of water).

We pitched ourselves by the shopping centre, but ‘Action for Kids’ dobbed us into security because we might hurt someone (actually I think they were annoyed we were making more money than them – is that cynical of me?).

At the end of the day we had to say goodbye to Mark and Lee – they were such great company and brilliant support, we couldn’t have done it without them.

I have started feeling like a charity prostitute, picking people up when and wherever we can. We found a guy called Colin outside a bycycle shop and he said he would help us get from Inverness to Grantown on Spey , thank the Lord.

Then we twisted and turned into the hills where we found Chris Swifts farm – about 20 dogs greeted us, and Chris’s two sons who were going to help us ride the following day. We were led to the barn- full of mounted deer heads and stuffed things- that was to be our sleeping quarters- personally I always sleep better surrounded by dead things.

We all had a shower(together) and watched a bit of top gear(together) and then ate the most magnificent dinner made by Susan Swift.

We went to bed up in the eves of the barn and pretended we were in the Waltons, it had to be done …… anyway, godnight Jim Bob, night Dick , night Fanny Ray, night , night ….

Monday, 2 August 2010

Day Two: We're the in thing in Invergordon

Hey CoBi fans, we're currently in Invergordon, 23 miles from Inverness and about 104 miles from John O'Groats. We've had an awesome day today, helped by university challenge winner Harold, 16 year old Lee and long distance cyclist Mark. We were also joined by John, who incredibly has just finished Land's End to John O'Groats on his own (after his friend broke his arm within four miles of the start) in 11 days. As we left Helmsdale I was worried that our second night under canvas had taken it's toll as we struggled up the small but steep hill out of the harbour. However at the top of the hill, when I realised I'd left the brake on, our slower progress made sense. Boosted by the news that we hadn't completely lost our powers in Helmsdale we cracked on at a fair pace and before long we were at Dunrobin Castle, where the manager Keith kindly sat us by the fire and offered us tea, coffee and biscuits. He'd just got back from cycling in Tibet and Nepal to Everest base camp aged 61 so we believed him when he said he'd be on the bike down the A9 if he didn't have to work.

At our lunch stop John stopped by and offered to help, despite having just done LEJOG the other way himself. Two farmer's boys in Wick had told him they'd seen us go past and he cycled all the way from there to give us a hand.

Our next stop was the Glenmorangie Distillery, where looks of panic crossed the faces of several tourists leaving the vistors centre, as they feared they'd misjudged the strength of the whisky they'd just tasted. Very kindly, the Distillery let us photgraph Miss CoBi next to the giant vats inside and gave us a bottle of single malt that we'll auction off at the end of the trip.

Last few miles to Invergordon were hard because bums were sore and the road was flat and unexciting. Made it into town just in time to give a ride to Rob Maclean of BBC's Sports Scene in Scotland. We're incredibly lucky to be staying with Willie, who has given us tent, table and toilet space. Thanks to him and all our other incredibly generous supporters today, we couldn't have done it without you.

Day 1 blog will follow as soon as internet starts working on the computer again.


we struggled up the hill out of the harrb ou

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Are you sitting comfortably (we’re not)? Then we’ll begin…

After I had said a long, lingering goodbye to the cat, we set-off for Inverness, where we were to meet Ed’s parents. We made a frantic ‘Challenge Anneka’ dash around the town looking for free food and charity shop kitchen ware (The sort of challenge we all wish Anneka had attempted, she was so lazy, she never stretched herself, what a waste).

We made our final journey to the end of the world; it was a bit like the last supper, but with Juice Doctor instead of wine; very moving anyway.

John O’Groats acted like it had never seen a bike before – OK Miss Cobi, is bright purple, she has seven saddles and looks like a fair ground ride but she isn’t a freak ….. Alright, you got me, she is a freak.

We pitched our tents in the midnight (10pm) sun and met some of the locals – they were very excited that Charlie Boy (that is Prince Charles to you and me) was staying at his Mum’s house that week.

At 5am we rose again and took the CoBi down to the start line for the start funnily enough. The famous sign was missing, presumed stolen, but actually it turns out you have to hire it… capitalism hey? Don’t worry, Ed is going to photoshop it in, along with a unicorn and Ali Baba.

The local seals put on an opening ceremony to rival the Beijing Olympic Games and then at about 6.45am with began. There were 5 of us on the bike, including two Aussie lads we had kidnapped in Helmsdale the day before, using chlorophyl and some chest harnesses.

It was a crisp morning, and without sounding twee, freaking beautiful. Suddenly the GPS told us some great news, we had done our first mile – you would have thought we had actually discovered the cure for cancer, that is how excited we were, but it was the watershed – we will do this.

2 miles in the excitement turned to hysteria, as some Miss Trunchbull lookalike appeared from her house looking puzzled, she jumped the fence and looked at us ‘Oh’ she exclaimed, ‘it’s a cluster f**k’- only later after scaling a hill so steep it has it’s own name, did I realise that it indeed was a cluster f**k , and my clusters were well and truly f**ked at that.

We passed two horses standing in the field and a lady standing in the doorway. “The horses think you’re mad” she shouted, which was a pretty damning statement given it was coming from a woman who talked to horses.

We needed some fresh legs, but luckily came across two 15 year olds girls staggering home after a night out …. They climbed aboard and gave their best effort for 7 miles, before they had to get off to be sick... but would you have got the same spirit in London? I fear if we had asked some drunk girls to help us on the bike, we would have ended up either dead or in court.

We lost out Aussies in Wick, and then there were 4 of us ….. the next 10 miles or so were pure hell, tripled distilled and 100% proof. The car honks, photographs, smiles and donations kept us going. We were also lucky enough to stop off just outside the house of Wendy and David, who offered us plenty of biscuits, toilet facilities and tea. Then a miracle happened – round the corner I spotted 3 young guys riding along wearing pink bra’s and I thought, they were the perfect additions to our team …. We bribed them with some La Senza lingerie and they hopped on. Thank God they did, because we encountered 3 beasts …. One hill was hard but fast, the other was slow but light, the last and worst was put on earth to test all men (not women; there is a little lane in Brighton which was put on earth to test woman).

But by jove we did it – even though we let a first-time driver take us down a 13% incline at 36mph , causing the breaks to catch fire. … we arrived in Helmsdale, 55 miles and 10 ½ hrs later …. Nah,nah,nah,nah,nah,nah,nah,nah!