A Blog About Brian Albritton's September 2012 Cycling Ride Across Britain

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Questions About the Ride

It is hard to believe that a week has gone by since finishing the ride last Sunday.  I miss it.  I thought I would answer a few questions:

How far did I ride?

The ride was supposed to be 969 miles, but at least 7 miles were added on stage 7 (127 to 134 miles). On day 3 my back wheel spoke broke at mile 85, and I was forced to abandon not too far from the end. I estimate that I rode 970 miles in 9 straight days of riding. The longest day was the 7th: 134 miles. The shortest day was the 3rd:  99 miles.

Take any photos?

I took very few photos as we were riding most of the time. But, others did.  Here is the link to the photos taken by my friend Nick.  Also, the organizers of the Deloitte Ride Across Britain took some photos as well, and they can be found here.

What was the weather like?

The first 2 days were relatively sunny. After that, we had periods of sunshine here and there, but it rained almost everyday and, at least to me, was often quite cold with the winds. It was very windy, most often 15 mph and above. On day 7, the winds were 30-40 mph and they were headwinds! We had 6 days of tailwinds and 3 days of headwinds.

Also, it was often cold, especially with the winds, and I was often very cold. I would bundle up in the morning, and invariably begin to sweat with all my gear, thus ensuring that I would be cold the rest of the day. Now, my fellow riders from the UK were not surprised or as affected by the weather; they were used to it and only rarely complained of the cold.

Where did we ride?

Entirely on public roads. In southern England, we often rode on one lane "single track" roads with large hedges on each side -- where the organizers found the roads, I don't know, because they often looked like glorified paths. Still, they were used by cars, and we would have to squeeze to get around the cars.

As we moved further north, we often rode our bikes on two lane highways with lots of car traffic. In fact, leaving the area between Manchester and Liverpool one morning, we rode in morning traffic, in the cold rain, with partial sunlight, for almost two hours. We did the same thing riding out of Glasgow one morning, as we left at 6:00 a.m.

When we got to Scotland, many of the road surfaces were quite rough and jarring, adding to the overall misery.

How many riders?

I heard that there were roughly 500 doing the ride from End to End. We were often joined by day riders who rode for at least a day, often as part of a corporate sponsorship. I understand that there were an additional 200 of these riders.

Where did we sleep?

With the exception of one night where we stayed in the dorms at Bath University, we slept in tents. It was highly organized. You got in from the ride and were assigned a tent in the "color" or area to which you had been initially assigned. The tents were small "two man" tents, but they did keep the elements out. The tents were lined up row after row. There were portable showers and portable toilets. We had an eating area, a "drying" area to hang clothes, an area to socialize and meet where we often had our nightly briefings, a small "internet" area where you could pick up a wireless signal, and there was a huge fenced in and guarded area where the bikes were kept. For the most part, the organizers of the ride moved these portable structures every night along with all our bags which we picked up each day when we came in as well.

What was the hardest day?

Overall, the cycling was hard due to several factors: the amount of miles each day, the climbing, the steepness of the climbs, the wind, rain, cold, and in some instances, terrible conditions of the road. 

The hardest day is a tie between the first day and the 7th day. On the first day from Land's End to Okehampton, it was supposed to be a bit over 4,000 feet of climbing. Nick just sent me his Garmin, and it shows what many suspected: double that or 8,900 feet of climbing. The climbs were so steep.

The next hardest day was from Glasgow to Ft. William, where we rode 134 miles. We left at 6:00 a.m. and got in at 7:30 p.m. We had city traffic, rain in the morning, and gale force winds that forced us to pedal going down hill. We crossed two mountain passes in Scotland. The roads at times were so rough it would make your teeth chatter and your hands numb.

Would I do it again?

On the ride, I said I would not. But, on reflection, maybe . . . It was a tremendous challenge and it took me 11 months of training, during which I rode 6,000 miles. As a result of the training rides and training in the gym, I am in the best shape of my adult life. Still, it was and would be hard to find time to do such training again, and it was a strain on the rest of my life. 

A. Brian Albritton
September 23, 2012

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Riding with Stewart's Group and My Friend Nick

Stewart's Group
What made the ride bearable was cycling with a group. Beginning from the second "pit stop" on Day Two, I rode with with a group led by the "chaperone" Stewart. Above is a picture of our group. Stewart is the rider on the right of the sign with green sleeves.

The ride organizers would send out various chaperones who would set a certain pace of the ride for anyone who wanted to ride as a group at that pace. Most people, it seemed, did not ride with a chaperone and rode either alone or in their own groups. There were several chaperone groups; we were the slow group, riding at an average speed between 11-12 mph.

Stewart was great. He "pulled" us along, leading us in a long line. Sometimes our group would pick up more riders, and we would be as many as 30 riders. Stewart (and a lot of other riders for that matter) appeared to be immune from the cold, and he would only wear a jersey and a sleeveless gillet for most of the rides. When the sun would break through occasionally, Stewart would complain of the "heat wave" and that he was "sweating".  Of course, I would be freezing as it was cold almost all of the time.
My friend Nick

I became friends with one of the riders in our group, Nick who is an architect from London, and a bit younger than me. That's Nick and me in the picture. Nick was a very strong rider, and just a great person to ride with. We shared a lot of the same interests, including a mutual appreciation of the English show, "IT Crowd".  Nick was also a real help to me. As I frequently suffered from being cold, Nick would often surprise me with a cup of hot tea at a pit stop. On the day we rode the 134 mile leg, much of which was in cold wind and rain, Nick loaned me some leg warmers. I had fallen behind that day, and he "pulled" me the last 20 miles of the ride to base camp. Nick tried to tell me that if your feet are cold, you should cover them in plastic bags. He swore by it, and you would often see the plastic bags around his ankles. I tried it, but all the bags did for me was act as a sort of a refrigerator for my feet: preserving the cold as opposed to keeping in the heat.

Nick could climb the hills and mountains pretty well and was a pretty strong rider overall -- stronger than many of the younger riders. He had done some of his training by riding to work every day, roughly 15 miles each way, and treating it as a sort of time trial. Someday, I hope we get to ride together again somewhere.

A. Brian Albritton

Monday, September 17, 2012

Observations from the Ride: I Was Lost and then Recovered

I finished the End-to-End ride yesterday and will return home tomorrow. I want to thank you, my family and friends, for your encouragement, support, and prayers. I want to share with you over the next few blog posts some of what I experienced and the people I met on the ride.

I was talking with another rider today here at the hotel in Inverness. As we were speaking about the ride, we both teared up at points: there were so many emotional and moving points in the ride. For me, it was Stage Two: Okehampton to Bath. Stage One from Land's End had been brutal; though it had been listed at over 4,000 feet of climbing, the Garmins on many bikes had shown it was almost 8,000 feet of climbing. Many of these climbs were of incredibly steep hills. Even the best riders did not go over 5 mph over the hills. It was hill after hill all the way to the end, and a struggle to make it over them. I gave it everything I had to complete the ride.

As a result, at the beginning of Stage Two I was spent. I was so tired I rode 6 miles off course. When I got back to the ride, I was listless and had no energy. My eyes were heavy; I felt like I wanted to sleep. I was in despair. I did not know how I would complete the ride. One of the ride chaperones, Bob, rode up to me and told me I was the last person; everyone was in front of me. He and I were just in front of the sweep wagon.

Bob realized I was in a bad way. There is a condition in riding called "bonking", when the body shuts down and becomes listless and without energy due to the lack of energy and carbohydrates: essentially, the body's reserves are gone. I was about at that point. Bob started feeding me - chocolates, a tuna sandwich, and other stuff. One of the medical cars accompanying the ride stopped too. The driver took some of my gear and offered me a glucose drink. Minutes later, that guy --  I didn't get his name -- stood by the side of the road, and as I was riding along handed me a drink, just like at a Tour de France feed zone. Bob paced me to the first stop at mile 37 where I got even more food. Bob was so upbeat. I asked him if I should abandon. He said, "Depends on what you came here for, to just enjoy yourself or to finish." I came to finish the whole ride, I told him.

I started off again and kept riding. It was not getting better. I just wanted to sleep; I had no energy. I was praying and just trying to keep pedaling. As I came upon 50 miles, I thought, I can't do this anymore. I stopped, thinking I was going to abandon. At that exact moment, Bob came up. In his cheerful way he said, "Hey Brian, you can't stop on a downhill." I started riding again, telling myself and praying, "Just make it to 60 miles." And at 60, I told myself, just make it 70. I did that in 10-mile increments, celebrating each 10 miles I finished. I completed huge, steep climbs at 55 and 85 miles as well.

By the end of the day,  I had cycled 116 miles. I finished feeling pretty good, with a group of riders I would continue to ride with until the end of the ride yesterday.

I was so grateful to Bob, and we embraced when I saw him in camp. I had been lost, thinking I would have to abandon after 11 months of preparation and 6,000 miles of riding. And, then I was found, having recovered my energy and a regular cadence to overcome the climbs remaining that day. I was happy and thankful: I had completed the day. The emotion on finishing was overwhelming.

I will post more tomorrow. I arrive back in Tampa tomorrow.

Brian Albritton
Inverness, Scotland
September 17, 2012

Sunday, September 16, 2012

John O'Groats! - A Truly Amazing End-to-End

Brian has reached John O'Groats after a 977 mile, 9-day journey over mountains, in all kinds of weather (from sun to rain to gale force winds), sweating, shivering, broken wheel, broken pedal, etc... Here he is.

I will post more details as I get them. So far, he texted me: "Finished" and emailed the photo. I bet there is a huge celebration going on at the camp right now.

He will pack up his bike, make his way from John O'Groats to Inverness and then to London and Tampa, arriving home on Tuesday evening. Thanks for all the support, prayers, thoughts... He could not have done it without the encouragement from you all.

Joo Hooi

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Day 8 - Almost Done

Day 8 - Fort William to Kyle of Sutherland, 111 miles with 5,301 ft total climb.

Brian reported:

"Good day. Weather was quite good. Two big climbs, very tough and steep. Walked a bit on one. No real rain today - yea! Ready for it to be over, but very glad I did it. Last ride will be challenging too."

I saw some photos from the Deloitte RAB site. They went through some beautiful scenery, including Loch Ness.

 Brian sounds very tired. Tomorrow is the last day. Yes, it does look challenging.

DAY 9 - September 16
Kyle of Sutherland to John O'Groats, 104 miles - 4,140 ft total climb
Let's cheer Brian on to the finish. Thanks for keeping him in your thoughts.

Joo Hooi

Day 7 - More Is In You

Check out this great description from Deloitte Ride Across Britain site with lovely pictures from Day 7. Incredible what all the riders did!

Joo Hooi

Friday, September 14, 2012

Day 7 - 134 Miles and Mountains in Scotland!

This morning I saw that they had altered the route to make it even longer than the already daunting 127 miles. From the Deloitte RAB Live site this morning:

"... with the inclement weather causing a landslide and over-running bridge works on the route we have had to extend this to 134 miles! During the briefing there was a tense atmosphere as the team ran through the coming day. The focus for everyone was to be on two things.
  1. Safety of all riders on the road and at basecamps.
  2. Ensuring we get as many people across the line as we can..."
Oh, boy! That was not reassuring. Then all through the afternoon the Riders Time link did not work so I could not find out how Brian was doing during the day.

Finally at 4:58 p.m. I received an email from Brian. HE DID IT!

"Long day 134 miles. Incredibly windy: 30/40 mph gusts and headwind for most of the day, rain from time to time. Wet (from sweat) and cold while riding. Even though I had 5 layers on. Climbed thousands of feet: 2 mountain nowain (whatever that means, maybe a typo?) passes. Started at 6:15 finished at 7:25. Meeting lots of nice people. Very tired. Going to bed."  

I cannot believe it. This was the most challenging day of all. 7 days done, only 2 more to go. I am amazed and proud.

Joo Hooi

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Day 6 - Scotland!

Photo (above) and report from Brian at the end of Day 6 - Penrith to Glasgow:

"A very good day today. 104 miles. Best time. Big group riding together. Did not rain - a miracle! It is cold and very, very windy. I wear 4 layers, and it's not enough. Feet very cold. Bottom is ok; that too is a miracle. Hills not too steep today. Biggest challenge is tomorrow. Lots of climbing and 127 miles. A very long day."

Last night's base camp was in the beautiful Hutton in the Forest. Makes me think of Robin Hood, Maid Marian, etc.

When the riders go to bed, this is what the bicycles do.

627 miles completed. Only 342 more miles to go. Tomorrow Day 7 Glasgow to Fort William, a grueling ride ahead - longest (127 miles - are they crazy?) and the most number of feet of climbs (6,017 ft total climb).

Thanks for supporting Brian in this crazy endeavor. When he comes back, I am going to burn his passport!

Joo Hooi

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Day 5 - A Big Mountain Conquered!

Day 5 - 104 Miles from Haydock to Penrith with a Big Mountain Finish

The day started rainy and cold. Here is a tweet from a rider:

"No two ways about it. It's wet. Plain wet. A day for sitting by a fire ..."

Here is the sun trying to shine through at Pit Stop 1:

Another picture at Pit Stop 2: 

At least one rider declared it inhumane and quit, “Conditions were very harsh with driving rain, not enjoyable so called it a day and came home.”

But not our Brian, no quitter he, although as we all would have said, "There is no shame in that!"
He went all the way, "Long day, cold rain, for 5 hours rode in city traffic. For 2 hours big mountain, then pedal broke. All good, to bed now."

He finished 104 miles and bought new pedals! What a guy. He should have brought another bike along with him considering all the new stuff he is having to buy.

If you are wondering what he means when he says "to bed", here is their little green village. Good night, Brian from all of us here on the other side of the big pond.

Brian has completed 527 miles out of 969 total miles, over half done. Tomorrow, Day 6 is 100 miles with 3,353 feet of total climb should be a relatively easy day before a real brute on Day 7.

Joo Hooi