I was determined that this would to be the last day. The final push to the end. There were just over 200 miles to do, so there was going to be no more sleeping until it was over. No further hotels would be booked, I would ride through the night, and be finished by 6.37am.
Who was I kidding?
So, on day 11, I left the hotel at 11am after mustering up the enthusiasm for the final ride. My ‘as long as I need’ sleep, turned out to last around 4 hours at the most, and I was tired before I started. But I forced down another 1000 calorie breakfast, so that I wouldn’t need to stop until ‘lunch’ time. I began by riding in circles trying to find the entrance to the bridge over the River Avon, and wasted time once again. But, it was lovely to see friendly faces cheering me on when I finally found my way onto the bridge, but I didn’t have time for pleasantries, as I needed to get as far south as I could, as quickly as I could. But it was already lunchtime, and I hadn’t even covered 10 miles.
I just want to sleep!
After that, I made steady progress through Portishead, towards Weston-Super-Mare where I was due to meet up with Del again. He had set himself up next to Starbucks so that he could work, and when I arrived I grabbed some food and hot drink. The weather wasn’t great, in fact I was soaked through by the time I got there, but a short break was all I could afford. I was in familiar territory now, having lived in the area for 18 years as a young adult, and so I hit the A38, put my head down, and ploughed on towards Bridgwater. I was being stalked by some new dot-watchers, who would periodically pop up in laybys with their van, and cheer me on. I was aware of them only a little, as I was back in survival mode, so just moving forward was all I could focus on. As I reached the edge of Puriton I was overwhelmed with tiredness. It was now late afternoon, and both the ride and the weather was taking it’s toll. I hadn’t really eaten much, and had certainly not been remembering to eat regularly. I stopped at a wooden gate, got off my bike, and just lay my head along the top of the gate, shutting my eyes. I don’t think I was there for long, as I woke sharply when my legs gave way from under me. I really needed to be able to sit or lie down somewhere, but everything was wet, so I knew I just had to keep going. I wasn’t due to meet up with Del again until Taunton, and that was still some 10+ miles away. As I approach Bridgwater, I felt a wobble from the bike as I began to doze off, and since it was now rush hour on a busy A road, I knew I needed to stop and soon. I found a layby, put my bike down, and just walked around a little. A large van pulled up beside me, and a friendly couple jumped out. It turned out it was the same couple that have been popping up for the last few miles.
“Is there anything you need?” they asked
“Sleep” was my reply
“Well as luck has it, we have a bed inside the van you are welcome to rest a while. We’ll look after your bike”
It was too good an opportunity to pass up, and I’d learned on this trip to trust strangers, so into the van I went, leaving them standing around outside while I napped. I was only asleep for about 20 minutes, but it was just what I needed. They were surprised I was back out so soon, but that nagging feeling of needing to keep moving never left me.
Soon I was heading through Bridgwater during rush hour, and onto the road to Taunton. I was so relieved as I rode and saw the familiar sight of Steve, the motorbike outrider parked up waiting for me. I knew that he was coming back but hadn’t realised he would meet me so far north. He was now going to ride with me all the way to the end. I was overjoyed, but I don’t think he realised just what a tiring mission he would now be on. I was certainly a very different person to the one he had left in Tiverton the previous week. The remaining miles through Somerset and into Devon were a bit of a blur. I was joined by a rider through Taunton, and there were more people in laybys and roundabouts waving me on, despite the darkness that was falling.
Members of Devon CTC rode out to join me shortly after Wellington in an effort to re-route me through the flatter route via Exeter rather than a very twisty, lumpy and rural Tiverton route. But I wasn’t in good shape. I remember being wobbly, and falling asleep often. I made painfully slow progress.
Napping was my only way of moving forwards. I had nap on a bench on the road to Exeter, and another in a bus shelter. All very audax like, but not particularly World Record like. I was really struggling, and just wanted it to be over.
The route through Exeter was a good one, and we stopped for supplies and caffeine at a Sainsbury’s petrol station. I drank coffee, and bought several cans of Red Bull to help see me through the night. It was now around 10:30pm, and yes, over 5 hours to ride from Bridgwater to Exeter along main roads was shocking progress! The CTC group parted ways with me once we were safely on the old A30 where I found Del waiting with the van, I met up with my friend Graham who planned on riding through the night with me. He tried his best to help keep me awake, but by the time we reached Okehampton, I needed to lie down properly. Thankfully Del was there, and I got an hours sleep, and so did Steve in the cab of the van. I woke up to find another friend had appeared, but this time he wasn’t cycling, and had decided to follow me to the end for moral support. I ran up to Mark and just gave him a big hug. It was so good to see him. It was his fault that had got me into doing this kind of crazy adventure in the first place as he had introduced me to the mad world of Audax many years earlier. It seemed only fitting that he was here at this moment.
There was less than 100 miles to go, but it was the longest 100 miles of my life. I knew I just needed to keep moving, but it was easier said than done. We left Okehampton just as it was getting light to find early morning drizzle setting in. Graham continued riding with us until Launceston, where I picked up the main A30 again, hoping to be able to progress more quickly.
This time, I felt every bump in the road. I was still struggling with saddle sores, which seemed to be back with new zeal, possible due to the rain from the start of this section. I lacked energy, and I was staying awake purely with Red Bull and coffee. I still wasn’t eating much, as tiredness seemed have left me with an inability to chew food. But, I kept myself topped up with my RacePro drink, and eventually I was able to eat small amounts. Breakfast however, was very welcome, and I perked up a little and did a quick video update.
A police escort
After the breakfast stop, we headed for Cornwall Services. But, the weather turned again, and heavy rain set in. There was no longer the friendly bank holiday traffic that we encountered on the first day, but a busy road, complete with lorries and vans. It was a completely different and unpleasant experience this time, despite the smoothness of the road surface. Although I was safe, protected from behind by Steve and his bike, a close pass of Steve by a lorry prompted us to be stopped by the police and they asked if we would leave the A30 and find another route.!!! We were escorted off to the Bodmin junction, and had to navigate from there to the Services further on. Normally I know the route reasonably well, but all knowledge of the location left me and we went all the way into Bodmin town centre, which then meant a really long climb back out to join back onto the route. After the services we continued to navigate on A30 alternatives, but they weren’t the best of routes in places, particularly in my very tired state.
But eventually, once the rain passed, we opted to get back onto the main road, and I spotted Mark cheering me on in various laybys along the way. I made such slow progress, and only just managed to pedal up the same hills that I had barely noticed at the beginning of the ride. Despite needing to stop in laybys, just to rest my eyes, I was determined to keep moving forwards. I had just one objective by then, just finish. Keep moving and get to the end. Once the A30 narrowed to just single carriageway I became aware of huge queues that were building up behind us, which gave me multiple excuses to stop in layby’s a close my eyes for a minute or two. In previous rides I thought I had encountered severe sleep deprivation, but this had reached new levels.
After the event it occurred to me that Steve must also have been suffering. He had also been riding since the afternoon before, and at a painfully slow speed. A few times he simply had to stop and let me ride on a little, so that he didn’t have to ride at less than 10 mph. I write about how tough it is on me, but my support crews also suffer. They are on the road too, trying to grab snippets of shut eye when they can. I haven’t credited them enough in this blog, but they were all amazing.
Don’t stop me now
Even being topped up with Red Bull and coffee wasn’t helping me to stay awake by then, until I arrived at Hayle McDonalds for a quick comfort break. I was met by another rider (sorry I don’t recall his name), and it was just what I needed. We talked as we rode through Hayle and for the first time since breakfast I felt awake. My pace quickened a little as I realized there wasn’t far to go now. At Penzance I was joined by even more riders (including my son), who guided me along the Penzance seafront and onto the Lands End road. Suddenly I felt a second wind, and upped my pace. I just couldn’t wait to get to the end.
Around 7:30pm, as the sun was beginning to set, I arrived at the entrance to Lands End to a small crowd who were cheering, with cowbells and balloons. Punching the air and shouting ‘I did it’ I continued riding through the visitor centre towards the famous sign post, with my new peloton following me, just in time for an amazing sunset. This time I didn’t cry….. I smiled, a lot, and breathed a grateful sigh…for I did not have to sit on my bike again!
The time submitted to Guinness is 11 days, 13 hours and 13 minutes. Despite not being the 8 days and 12 hours that they set as their target, they have agreed to accept my time as the world record, subject to my evidence being sufficiently submitted. I am still working on putting together this evidence, but whether or not it is accepted, this journey still signifies me as being the first female to ever have recorded a time for the journey, maybe, even the first to ever have done it. I have found no evidence to suggest otherwise. As such, this does officially mean that this is the fastest known time for a woman to have ridden this trip.
So, for any ladies reading this that might think that they could never do something like this I say this. I am living proof that you do not need to be a traditional athlete to be able to set a world record. You don’t even need to be that fast. You just need determination, adaptability, and a strong desire. The kindness and support that I received from hundreds of strangers was out of this world. Somehow this ride gave people something exciting to be part of in what has been a truly horrible year for so many, and I am so grateful to each and every one of them.