Friday, 31 August 2007

Stumped but not out

It was another wild day and I felt grateful it was almost over. The wind was strong, gusting but thankfully behind us, the sky a patchwork of greys, the air laced with drizzle, road damp, the occasional car spraying a fine mist on us as they sped past to the edge of the world.
Our progress was slower, as it ever was, despite finally swapping the see-saw climbs of Sutherland for the rolling pastures of Caithness. But this was not a ride to savour, more a job to be completed, the last leg on our last legs, the final 30 kilometres. We needed a photo to match the one we had from Lands End.

Our arrival was magical; it was the perfect picture at the end of a miserable day, the finish of a long, long ride. The sun came out casting evening shadows down towards the harbour, a rainbow appeared in the squall driving white horses across Gills Bay, the day trippers dissappeared on the last bus home and we all felt the excitement of finally reaching the signpost at the other end. But it was after five o clock and the official photographer had gone home, taking the John O Groats sign with him, leaving only the stump. But it didn’t matter, we knew we’d made it. After 2000km and 49 days riding, we were finally eligible to join the club and I took a photo of the kids at the white wooden post-stump to prove it.

‘End to Enders. Please register your arrival/departure at the Groats Inn,’ said one sign, so we made our way to the Inn. The sign at the Groats Inn told another story; ‘End to Enders. Please check-in/check-out at The Last House in Scotland ’. But the Last House was closed, its’ last customers gone home. Back at the Groats Inn, a sign on the door warned us off, ‘No Children in the Bar.’ “Don’t worry,” said the barmen when I poked my head around the door to ask about registering, “that’s to frighten the tourists off. Groaters of all ages are welcome.”

We ordered a round of drinks to celebrate; orange squash, coke, and irn bru. “Is that it?” asked the barman. I looked at Kirstie, Matthew, Cameron and Hannah, all dressed up in their waterproofs, bedraggled, tired and smiling. “Give us two pints of lager, two packets of crisps and a pizza too.” It was party time.

“Can you stamp our record cards?” Kirstie asked the barmen. “If you sign my end to enders book,” he replied handing over a thick leafed bound book, pages filled with the handwritten testaments of hundreds of others who’ve tested themselves across the length of Britain, on foot, bike, stilts, motorbike and bio-diesel powered tractor, singing, drumming and humming their way through their own personal end to end challenge.

So what to write? How do you sum it up? Capture something of the essence of the journey, the sense of personal achievement, the pride I feel not so much at what Kirstie and I have done, for dozens of others complete the end to end ride every week, but more at what we have achieved together as a family and particularly what the boys have achieved, pedalling along on the tandems every mile of the way, in all weathers and mostly in the best of spirits. So, what to write? I was stumped.

“Can I write something in the book?” asked Matthew, after finishing his coke. He took the book and pen and scribbled away for a few minutes, then handed it back. There in his neatest handwriting he summed it up nicely: “It was a bit hard at times But……. we still had great fun!” Signed, Matthew, 6. I couldn’t have put it better or wished for more.

Back in the tent, we lay in our sleeping bags, chatting about the trip, trying to recall highlights and lowlights over the noise of the gale force winds battering nylon and straining on guy ropes. “Has anyone ever pogo-sticked from Lands End to John O Groats?” asked Matthew idly on his way to sleep. Now there’s an idea for another time.

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