How to survive a 1,000 mile cycle ride in 10 easy steps

4th May 2011 by

This blog is cross-posted from Brake the Cycle, written by Liz and Matt.

So, it’s now the end of day 8 and we’re 550 miles into the trip, camped by a beautiful river in Kendal, at the start of the Lake District. Now, we can’t claim to be Lance Armstrong-calibre cycle touring experts but we have learned a few things along the way, which we thought we’d pass along to you. So we present, in no particular order, our top tips for making the most of a two-wheeled cycle adventure:

1. Bring chocolate. Lots of chocolate. And sugar. Lots of sugar. Especially on hilly days. Bananas are good too (and chocolate peanuts, and energy bars, and apples, and pink jelly babies, and blocks of cheese, and oatcakes, and sandwiches, and pastries…). Evening meals should pay homage to the great chickpea (or other good sources of protein) in the form of something warm or delicious like a curry. In general, eat twice or three times as much as you usually would.

2. After a few long days on the road, padded shorts will be your best friend. Three to four layers of padding are optional but recommended by some, as long as you don’t mind looking like the Michellin Man. A happy bum makes for a happy cyclist, trust us.

3. Don’t have a pint at lunch, no matter how tempting the pub and how sunny the afternoon. It will only make you sleepy later. Do have a pint (or two…or three?) at the end of the day.

4. Stretch consistently throughout the day. Roadside stretching is especially good since it also entertains the drivers passing by, and who doesn’t like to brighten up someone else’s day with a few lycra-clad lunges?

5. Water security is important. Don’t ever cycle with less than 2 extra bottles somewhere on your bike, or travel with other people who have lots of water. No matter how many fancy sports drinks you chug back, the humble tap water is the most refreshing drink of all.

6. Don’t bonk. Avoid bonking by adhering to point 1 and point 3, and possibly point 5. (According to some, bonking is cyclist-speak for when you suddenly run out of energy, usually when you’re about to cycle up a really big hill, and your muscles don’t want to work anymore.)

7. You’ll be spending at least 15 hours a day with the same people, so make sure you like your company. Boring people get very boring when you have to spend 8 hours pedalling next to them listening about cricket. Luckily, the Brake the Cycle group is very nice. Also none of them like cricket.

8. Love your bike. You and your bike will develop a very close relationship whilst on the road. You can nurture this relationship by lubing it up regularly before getting your leg over.

9. Don’t be a Debbie Downer. Be a Positive Polly or even an Uplifting Ursula. If all else fails, tell cheesy jokes.

10. In the end, remember that it’s not the destination, it’s the journey that counts. It can be tempting to compulsively check bike computers to clock record speeds and watch the miles rack up under your wheels, but the real magic happens when you take your eyes off the road speed and look at the counties, villages, cities, countryside and countless sheep you’ll see as you pass by.

If you could cycle anywhere in the whole wide….UK…

9th February 2011 by


…where would you go?

This year young volunteers on Otesha cycle tours will be pedaling through Wales, and Northern England on our Northern Soul tour and cycling in loops on a Tartan Trail around Scotland, spreading messages of sustainability through interactive workshops and our fantastic play.  In the past we’ve done a couple of tours around the Welsh Wild West, visited the Deep South (aka Devon and Cornwall), seen a bit of the East Coast, spun through Scotland, and last, but most certainly not least, did an epic End to End ride!

The question is, where have we missed?  We want to see it all, and spread Otesha to the farthest flung corners of the UK!  If you’ve got a whole route planned out or perhaps just the odd amazing place you think we should visit, we’d love to know.

If you’re a teacher or youth worker, or organise events or festivals and you’d love us to head in your direction let us know!  We’re always on the look out for cool, super-sustainable projects to visit as we pedal along too.  We want to hear from you if you think we might be passing near you this year, or if you’d like us to drop in on a future trip.  Comment on this post, or write an email to cycletours@otesha.org.uk!

Don’t forget you can join our tours by applying here!

End to End: the final tour journal

6th September 2010 by

The end of an epic oat-fuelled cycling adventure

Two months, 21 days of cycling, 1345 miles, 16 performances, 80 kilos oats, 63 punctures and over 40 flies consumed later, we made it all the way to the top of Britain. An epic adventure, changing and inspiring us and those we met.

But first let’s rewind a few days to where the last journal left off. Our performance to the staff and helpers at West End community centre was very well received and the food that they generously left for us was gratefully devoured by the hungry cyclists – you’re always ravenously hungry the day after cycling! In the evening Mike – who was on organised fun duty – had compiled a super deluxe quiz about everyone in the team, after interviewing us all individually! We made some interesting discoveries (such as the fact that only three of us don’t have a ‘2’ in their birthdays) and desperately tried to remember each other’s bike names and to work out what animal everyone thought of themselves as!

After another good night’s sleep we cycled off towards Helmsdale. It was once again a beautifully scenic ride with the village of Dornoch and the castle above Loch Fleet being some of my personal highlights. My team also found a lovely café in Dornoch with mouth-watering cakes in which to shelter from the biting wind. We made Helmsdale in good time and pitched our tents in midgeland down by the tidal river. A group of us then retreated to the adjacent Bridge Hotel to join Olivia and her rapidly growing blue knitted scarf for some whiskey hot chocolate – yum! Unfortunately dinner required a return to the tents to be feasted on by midges. Once we had eaten we quickly organised a tent watching rota and then ran back to the hotel to sample single malts while sitting in leather armchairs next to an open fire and surrounded by paintings of dogs – a good Scottish experience!

Unfortunately our performance the next day was cancelled but the Timespan heritage centre very kindly let us use their artist studio for the day to talk to any of their visitors who were interested and to use as a crafty space for making thank you gifts to send back to the office. We also had free access to look around the museum and art installations which were fascinating and great insight into the traumatic history of the area. The pouring rain at dinner time did keep the midges at bay, but resulted in most of us frequenting the Bridge hotel again at the early hour of 6 o’clock! The rain abated a bit later so we got some chips and went and watched the sun set from the harbour wall. We were even privileged enough to get a few glimpses of an elusive sea otter – very special.

After another broken night due to the church ‘bells’ that rang every quarter of an hour throughout the night we set off for our final town – Wick. We had received many fatalistic warning of the dreadful Berridale Braes hills that we would have to traverse, but the doom-mongers hadn’t accounted for the legs of steel we had acquired from the previous 1000 miles or so! We glided over the Braes with ease, making comments such as ‘Now those were proper hills, I really enjoyed them’. Hardcore cyclists now! At the top of one of them we got a fantastic panoramic view of the entire of the Moray Firth, all the way from John O’Groats to the Cairngorms. So with the end in sight we powered on to Wick where we had a well earned cuppa in a local café, did a bit of food shopping in the local supermarket and then headed up to North Wick primary school where they kindly provided us with more tea and opened the community centre next door so that we could camp there.

The next day we were up bright and early for our last day in a school. We started with the Fairtrade and Energy workshops and then performed our last ever play to a very enthusiastic audience – Timmy the T-shirt bought the house down! Thalia, Beth and Kerry then speedily cycled the 8 miles to Keiss Primary school to do the only Media workshop of the tour, such a shame as it was a really interesting and fulfilling one and the kids were fantastic. The lovely Hanna, from the office, then arrived and as it was regretably our last evening we had a wee party with yummy Crannigan, whiskey and ginger wine. Our final evening circle included an awards ceremony organised by the amazing Sarah and Becky. Awards such as Pig Pen, faffatron, trailer dominator and miss congeniality were given to all in the group.

Our final morning was spent addressing our worries about post tour life, giving lots of feedback, finding out how we can stay involved with Otesha and having a gratitude circle. We were all a bit apprehensive about being told how amazing we were, but actually it was lovely to be able to voice how great people are, which is normally suppressed by society. So we induced a few tears then! After some lunch and much faffing we set off on our final journey together to John O’Groats and then Duncansby Head (the actual western-most point!). It was a gorgeous cycle with stunning views of the Orkneys adorned with rainbows. At Duncansby Head we had a jubilant celebration with lots of photos and singing of the amazing ‘The Wild Cyclists’ song written by Thalia, Ruth and Louise.

Sample: “We are the wild cyclists, from Lands End we came. Up hills we did climb, thighs will ne’r be the same”.

A torrential rainstorm swept in and we dashed for our waterproofs while a hole was dug for our time capsule – a tupperware full of reminders, songs and letters from all of us – we will return in 20 years for a reunion and to collect it! Amazingly as we buried the time capsule the rain eased and a perfect rainbow formed over us, fading once the hole was filled! A suitably climactic end to an epic tour! We returned to the official sign for the obligatory photos and some teary goodbyes. Then we parted some of us continuing cycling in the Orkneys or down the west coast and others heading to Wick for their 6.20am train!

It has been an incredible experience and I think I speak for everyone involved when I say we will never forget it and will carry the experiences and what we have learnt with us as we resume our ‘ordinary’ lives.

So long wild cyclists,

Kerry & rest of the Land’s End to John O’Groats team (that’s Mike, Thalia, Olivia, Sarah, Becky, Beth, Sam, Ellie, Hannah, Robin, Louise and Ruth)

End to End almost done

23rd August 2010 by

Kirkcaldy proved to be more akin to a Carribean beach resort than the grey coastal town that it had been rumoured to be. We experienced tremendous luxury at the JRD trust who kindly put us up for the night and allowed us use of all their facilities (never have so many people taken such joy from merely sitting on sofas) including a convenient courtyard which was soon transformed into a hub for bike maintenance. The tropical temperatures prompted us to head for the beach. Our swim in the sea was slightly short lived as the water was a minefield of floating sanitary towels and jelly fish so we headed for the shore to spend a relaxing afternoon soaking up rays. A couple of us headed back to the JRD trust to sit in on a bible study class and emerged to be greeted by puff pastry pizzas made by the rest of the gang. The gastronomic odyssey did not end there however as, after a prolonged absence, Pete returned bearing PIE and various other sweet delights which we demolished with due haste. A late night play rehersal ensued on an ACTUAL stage but due to delirious tiredness the majority of the cast ended up rolling around on the floor laughing..

The next day we awoke and set off for Pitlochry. The ride there was amazingly beautiful and followed the cycle path almost the entire way ensuring minimal navigational stress. The day was filled with stunning views and music. Our group stopped in Perth to refuel with coffee and eggs. With renewed energy Pete took his turn pulling the trailer and we headed through some of our most beautiful countryside yet and spotted an array of wildlife including families of deer and hundreds of baby pheasants. We were welcomed into Pitlochry by a pipe band and coconut curry kindly procured by the cooking team. Our evening activities including the recital of a poem Olivia had written us followed by a doughnut eating competition – the aim being to not lick your lips whilst eating (this proved to be much harder than anticipated).

We had an unexpected day off in Pitlochry the next day which we filled with visits to the salmon ladder, cake, knitting, shopping, loch swimming and more cake. ‘Hettie’s’ proved to be the finest cake vendor in Pitlochry serving slices the size of your face. We had to say a tearful goodbye to Pete who had to return to London to work. We wept into our cake a little and then consoled ourselves with eating more cake. A crack team of hardcore thrillseekers, namely Louise, Sam and Robin set off for Loch Tummel to have a dip in its icy waters whilst the rest of us spent the rest of the afternoon exploring, perusing charity shops, learning to knit and listening to music in the sunshine.

The following days cycle to Carrbridge was undulatingly lovely. After reaching the highest point of the tour we descended down to be greeted by the Dalwhinnie whiskey distillery where lunch was had. All three teams managed to pass Olivia who was spending a day at the Highland Folk Museum and wave furiously. The sun had held for most of the day  but our entry into Carrbridge was marked by a massive downpour. The rain stopped long enough for us to set up camp and get cracking with a dinner of veggie sausages and mash. However, as the air thickened with midges we were all forced to seek refuge in our tents and have an early night. When we awoke we were greeted by sunshine. We all began our final day off on tour by basking in the sun’s rays and some had a discreet wash in a bucket. We ventured in ‘to town’ and took over the coffee shop for a session of postcard writing and beverage drinking aswell as clearing out the cafe’s stock of cake. Sadly Ellie had to leave us for a few days to attend a wedding so in usual style we wept into our cake and then ate some more cake as consolation. Back at camp in the evening we feasted on a fabulous meal of vegetable chilli and surprise coconut pudding concocted by the lovely Ruth. As the sun set a cloud of midges descended so we headed for the pub to seek shelter and discuss ethical veganism.

Next morning we were very excited to return to primary schools. We ran a banana chain game workshop in Carrbridge Primary and then performed the play in the school hall. Afterwards we headed onwards to 4 miles down the road to Deshar Primary School to perform the play once more. Both performances went really well and everyone was glad to be back in primary schools after the break. We returned to Carrbridge and once more stormed the coffee shop and devoured cake.

The cycle ride from Carrbridge to Alness got better and better as the day progressed. Sarah recieved her first puncture leaving Mike as the last member of the tour to remain punctureless (accusations of sabotage have been floated). On the way we visited the Clara Cairns, one of the best preserved burial sites in the UK. We experienced one of our windiest days yet adding an extra challenge going up hill…and downhill for that matter. We also passed our first signpost for John O’Groats. This provided a realisation of just how close we are to the finish. Our team had managed to meet up with another charity doing LEJOG but in reverse. They were mid way through their first day of cycling and were planning to cycle the entire route in 7 days! We stopped for a cheeky cup of tea and slice of cake with then and exchanged stories. Team 3 managed to be the first to Alness but the others were not far behind. We were greeted at the West End  Community Centre by feast of delicious food and the service of a five star restaurant. The boys took delight in the availability of video games and air hockey at the centre and everyone slept like logs – happy to be under a roof for a change. The centre had really kindly provided us with EGGS for breakfast so we feasted merrily before heading off to the leisure centre for a much needed shower.

End to End – tour journal 6

19th August 2010 by

The new week began with the usual scramble to leave on time. Bags loaded and with our temporary new recruit Helena on board (Mike’s girlfriend), we left Newcastle in search of Alnwick. It was a beautiful 50 mile journey along the coast to the place of Harry Potter’s Castle. We slept away the night in style at Alnwick community centre, which was full of luxurious treats such as a tuck shop and table football! But the slumber was short lived and once again the morning, along with the youth of Alnwick, was upon us. The play and bicycle maintenance workshop were met with much enthusiasm which powered our pedals through the treacherous thunderstorm that was to come on our way to Budle Bay campsite (the wise amongst us hibernated with coffee and cake whilst it passed over).

Sleepy cyclists crawled out of their tents at the cry of the time lord “6am everybody!!! Breakfast in fifteen minutes”. Greeted by a glorious blue sky, the day began with a pretty trundle along the coast. After a euphoric boarder crossing, Scotland kicked in and we struggled with our first mountain! Celebrations at the top included a puncture and a heavy shower. After that, all that remained was to cruise downhill to Edinburgh (although the ferocious headwind meant that pedalling down hill was a must!). But all arrived safe and sound 83 miles later at Mike and Helena’s flat, and after chips settled down to a restless night excitedly anticipating the day of the Fringe!!!

After a quick rehearsal and a run through of our new final song we made our way (fuelled by Irn Bru) through the streets of Edinburgh to the Royal Mile. We were greeted by more rain, but it ceased long enough for us do our work in all its splendour. The audience were not only treated to the delights of Mike in his kilt (and all that entailed) but witnessed the LEJOG crew at its best. The day off in Edinburgh that followed was most enjoyed by all (various activities included haggis eating, fringe watching, Arthur’s seat climbing), and concluded with a magnificent ceilidh, in true Scottish style.

Next stop…. Kirkcaldy!!!! And an easy peasy lovely jubbly pucker 35 miles over the magnificent Forth Bridge and along the coast. Here we experienced our first wild camp, as we pitched down on the beach front ready for our early morning dip. A misty murky morning lay ahead for those brave souls who ventured down to be greeted by a somewhat refreshing wake up call!!!

End to End – tour journal 5

19th August 2010 by

Derby was the location of our long awaited mid-tour retreat. Our vision of it being an emotional and physical recuperation were fulfilled as we rolled along the sweeping gravel driveway to discover a Jane Austen-esque estate complete with horses, a lake, afternoon tea and a man- servant (Alfie you’re a legend!!). Unfortunately Mr Darcy was away on business.

After a restful nights sleep on the manicured lawn we awoke to some meditative yoga led by Hannah. Having removed the knots from our cycle weary bodies we thought a team building exercise in the guise of an Otesha pyramid would be fun! It lasted all of three seconds before a crumpled heap of bodies shouting “my arm, my leg, my hip” ensued. The fun continued down at the lake. Our vision: crystal waters, Borris the boom box and his finest tunes and a picnic lunch. The reality: a cesspool six inches deep with algae, topped with stinging wasps and hissings swans. Undeterred Sarah was the first brave soul to wade neck deep into the delights of Derby’s leisure facilities, closely followed by Robin and Kerry. Ellie and Hannah took a different approach gliding in on their lilos. We doused both them and our tupperware’s in citricidal that evening.

Alongside these frolics we had time for quiet reflection both on our progress so far and looking forwards, gearing our minds and bicycles towards the epic journey to Leeds. We set off bright and early, dominating the Peak district and its unending hills. As the hours passed and pedals turned we were all safe and tucked up in our sleeping bags by the respectable hour of 3am!!! Going in a 2 mile circle through deep foliage didn’t yield the fastest progression. The following day we partook in the 10th Breeze Festival in Armley Park, Leeds. Morning Choices was received with a rapturous response. One of the festivals aims was to ‘party without pollution’ so Otesha felt right at home, as we put our Lance Armstrong legs to good use, powering a DJ set up inside one of the Marquees.

One of the highlights of the Lejog tour has been the number of quirky places and interesting people we’ve encountered en route and East Rounton was no exception. Pulling in after 62 miles we pitched our tent among the chickens. The owner had taken it upon himself to convert an old barn into an art studio, showcasing local talent. It was pretty awesome to view all the depictions and sculptures of the surrounding countryside, from still life to real life as we ate our morning porridge.

Ellie and Robin were keen to descend on Newcastle, spending the cycle there getting into character perfecting their Ant and Dec jordi accents. Way –ey!! The 70 mile journey was picturesque along the East coast, restoring our faith in cycle path terrain. No journey is ever hitch free through as team one discovered arriving at the Tyne river crossing tunnel, with a lift out of action and broken down escalator the prospect of carrying 4 bicycles, pannier laden and big zip down 350 stairs was not plausible. Onto the next green method of transport  the ferry was considered but with none in sight Becky, Ruth, Louise and Mike loaded their bicycles onto a trailer and hopped in the car shuttle service, ready to face the treacherous crossing to arrive safe and dry in Newcastle. Another town, another workshop, we packed up our tools and set off to deliver another energy filled bicycle maintenance workshop. Those 37 punctures to date had proved handy practice. However beyond this it turned out to be more of a workshop for some of us as the Newcastle kids showed off their bicycle knowledge. Ellie how do you use a bicycle pump again??

Thalia and her sweet talking ways had organised our enforced fun evenings entertainment with a private film showing at a local anarchist cinema. The set up was run by volunteers and consensus s decision making ( a thing or too we also know about) and we reclined in comfy chairs enjoying locally brewed cider at their in- house bar. The following day we cycled on to Alnwick spurred on by Louise’s song “500 miles to John O Groats, All we need is OATS, OATS, OATS”!!

End to End – tour journal 4

2nd August 2010 by

…The epic 80 miler to Bristol proved more of a mission for some than others – Robin boosted our puncture stats by having 8 that day! We were happy to finally pedal over the Avon Gorge suspension bridge into the city, flooding into Robin’s student house. The next day it was great to meet Liz and Laura from the Otesha office, who had journeyed up from London. AND, there was a special surprise in the form of a ravishing red haired lady in a sling…Olivia had returned!! Back for a few days to crack us all up with her hilarious Simon Cowell impressions, Huzzah! Sam and Ellie had a twitter interview with 10:10, to share our love for bicycles and tour adventures. That evening we sampled Old Bristolian aboard the apple, did some impromptu rapping (aided by the latter) and jammed to an Israeli funk band, oh yeeah! A youth centre at Windmill Hill City Farm was the venue for our play the following day, which went well despite the odd blooper – for example Jamie Oliver telling the audience they could ‘always grow your own cheese’, instead of lettuce!

The next day we had an exciting sneaky peek into gardening and community allotment projects going on around the city, led by our guide Richard. We met inspiring permaculture guru Mike, who chatted about how to efficiently re-use things, symbiotic relationships of plants and happy poo-related cycles of life. Cauliflowers can feed goat, goat poop cultures worms, worms feed chickens, chicken poop feeds trees…etc! Frying us up tasty pakoras in the sunshine was a definite highlight. The sun was still shining the following day as we cycled 70 miles to our next destination…Newent!

We were welcomed by some of the transition Newent volunteers in Oxenhall village hall. We were overwhelmed by their hospitality, providing us with food, tasty local fruit and jams to sample. The next day was our first outdoor performance, with around 30 watching. We added a scene about money and ethical banking for our more adult audience. Many stuck around to take part in the bike maintenace workshop afterwards led by Mike and Sam. That evening, the play was performed again in the village hall, after a yummy ‘bring a pot’ dinner. We had great convos with people and there was an atmosphere of mutual encouragement between us Oteshites and the Transition Newites. Then, early start….and we begin meandering towards the midlands….bring it on!

End to End – tour journal 3

28th July 2010 by

As we departed Exeter after a fun filled weekend, we headed towards our next destination, Beaford arts centre in Northwest Devon, a leisurely 40 mile ride with some cheeky free cream teas and biscuits for one lucky team along the way apparently. My group missed out on that little treat but I was content with a quick 10 minute snooze in the sunshine after lunch.

Arriving at Beaford, we were all delighted to find hot showers, dorm rooms with beds for all, in amongst beautiful grounds. Here we performed to our largest audience yet; 100 children from three local schools. We were blessed with sunshine so spirits were high and the whole day ran fantastically. In the morning we made tetra pack wallets in the ethical fashion workshop and planted seeds in the grow your own workshop. We felt the children really engaged throughout the day and came up with some fantastic ideas and questions. This has to be one of the most inspiring aspects to our trip for me, getting to talk to young people and being constantly surprised by their knowledge and enthusiasm for the issues we’re talking about. Read the rest of this entry »

End to End tour journal – Hope for the future

20th July 2010 by

Its time for the second journal entry and the Otesha LEJOG (Lands End to John O’Groats) tour is now in full swing. Yesterday we descended on our third school – the Maynard school for girls in Exeter – and we definitely made an impression on the girls there. And this is what this week’s journal entry is going to be about – the children that we have met so far. Read the rest of this entry »

End to End tour journal – training week!

16th July 2010 by

When thinking about what to write for the LeJog 2010 tour it was really hard to fit in all of the amazing things which Hanna, Jo and the team managed to fit into training week!

Our journey to Sancreed, Corwall and ‘Plan-it Earth’ (a small, sustainable farm and our home-away-from-home for training week) was up one very steep hill…. the first of many.  One of the first things we had to accomplish was to get to know our new ‘family’ mainly through lots of games, which made us feel a bit like uninhibited little children. The ‘serious’ endeavours of creating a ‘food mandate’ (a shared agreement on how the team would eat for the duration of the trip) and the community roles (the responsibilities that we would take on as a team) went smoothly and allowed us to form a common idea of how life will function over the next two months. Read the rest of this entry »


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