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end to end on a bike for St John’s Medical Director

We are very proud to know and work with Dr Simon Edgecombe, Medical Director at St John’s Hospice. He is currently in the midst of an epic John O’Groats to Land’s End cycle ride raising money for the hospice. The story behind this arduous challenge makes it even more amazing. Read Simon’s words below as he tackles one of the great cycling challenges!

make a donation to simon

simon’s introduction

Five years ago I was planning a project – Land’s End to John O’Groats on a bike, with my son and some friends. Squeezing training in where I could, I was starting to build the miles up. Then one day, after a ride, the chest pain started.

At 49 years old and with no major risk factors I convinced myself and the doctors that this was indigestion, but 2 days later I found myself in the cardiac unit at Blackpool where a consultant cardiologist put a balloon into my heart and did some re-plumbing. I ended up supporting the event rather than participating. While this brought some of its own satisfaction the ride felt like unfinished business, an unscratched itch. In the months that followed, persistent chest pain had me back in hospital, doubting I would ever climb a hill or ride a bike again.

In May I am going back to scratch that itch and cycle the end to end. My work at St John’s Hospice has brought me into contact with lots of people, each with their own unique story. Their common ground? That life is short. It’s a genuine privilege to be part of the team at St John’s, helping and being alongside those people. I am proud to work there and really pleased to be able to use this event to support that work.

Click on the gallery below to view full images, and scroll down to read Simon’s blog.

Simon’s Blog

Simon edgecombe id photo

We will update this page as Simon updates his blog. The most recent posts are at the top, so to enjoy the whole adventure, start from the bottom and work your way up!

27 MAY 2018 – mission accomplished!

Mission accomplished. All old demon exorcised. Unfinished business now finished.

Thank you to all who sponsored me, to all who offered support in myriad other ways, to those special friends and family who fed, accommodated, guided and nurtured us along the route. Thanks to all those at St John’s who made our passing through so memorable. Special thanks to Dave for providing a bike in times of need. Massive thanks to Richard and Roz for being such great companions on the road, for making us all laugh, for being such great mates and for providing a support vehicle of such age that we joked the mission was actually to get the vehicle from j o’g to lands end and that three of us got to ride support bikes!

Biggest thanks of all to Jac. Provider of wraps and tempting food for hollow legs, of water for empty bottles, of respite at the top of long climbs. For always being in the right place at the right time, for wrestling with winding lanes or mad traffic, for rustling up meals for fractious and distracted cyclists and for bringing us back to how special this journey has been when we lost that focus for ourselves. Forever in your debt. You know how much this has meant. Thank you.

25 MAY 2018

And now here we are. Fewer than 60 miles to go and a notion now that nothing can stop us. Thoughts turn to re engagement with normality and only this shows how all consuming and engrossing the event has been.

It had always carried a burden of importance, of meaning, to me that coming close to falling had highlighted so clearly and now only those miles of futile Cornish up and down along high uttered lanes stand in the way.

25 MAY 2018

Plymouth, a sizeable city going about its sea shaped business, brought us back to some normality. We waited on the Torpoint ferry while a frigate slid past, it’s little powerful escort boats fizzing and fussing in this security conscious world. We met Jac at the top of the climb out, the ageing Lucida with its boot open ever a welcome sight and an opportunity to recharge ourselves and our water bottles.

The climbs of earlier in the trip had held some meaning. Shap was a watershed, a marker of an end to high northern ground. Rannoch Moor was a spectacular plateau from where the run out of the highlands began. Even Dartmoor had held us aloft for glorious miles. The climbs from now on had a different and futile quality – ascent just to lead to descent – up down. Estuary level to hill top to ferry. This was challenging to the psyche as much as the legs, tired though these were from 5-6000′ of ascent yesterday.

25 MAY 2018

The last days are living up to the hype.

We climbed hard late in the day to get up on to the top of Dartmoor, trying to keep ahead of schedule. Initially this felt like a psychological edge gained, giving confidence that the big climbs and distances would not give us a late difficulty. This morning, as a result, was stunning. We cycled across open moorland in the early morning haze. Sweeping dry roads gave screaming brief descents and short sharp climbs built on momentum and driving a big gear hard. Exhilarating so early and, with little traffic, only ambling sheep drawn to the warmth of the road overnight gave any concern. Sandpipers and skylark were at the roadside. Cuckoo’s called from further away, our first since Scotland 800 miles and a lifetime ago.

24 MAY 2018

The Mendips sat like a wall towards the end of the day’s route. 800′ of single steep climb and we find they are a plateau rather than a ridge. The day’s planned route ends at Glastonbury, where we find shade, a White Magnum and take in the cluster of folk who never realised the festival is not continuous. Tomorrow’s route is very long and starts the big west country climbs so we take off it’s first 12 miles by extending this day. Ahead of the game.

24 MAY 2018

Our pattern is of early starts. We’re not the fastest cyclists and we enjoy our breaks and meetings up with Jac on the road. We’re all ok with early nights and early mornings so have, as a rule, been turning the pedals by 8.30 at the latest. Most evenings are cluttered with refuelling, bike stuff, charging phones and the Garmin, planning elements of the following day and managing our aching bodies. My Achilles was worse after the big climbing day but is steady now and, sore though it is, I can’t see it stopping me.

Yesterday was another day of contrasts. An easy ride down to Chepstow and across the beautiful old bridge over the Wye, gave us or first quick coffee underneath the castle walls.
A few miles later and we are on the modern Severn Crossing- 2 miles of bright aired cross winds, watching the wind tide turmoil boiling beneath. Bristol entry was a hot dusty set of dual carriageways and roundabouts, all HGVs and no real rhythm, until the sanctuary of the Avon Gorge. Under the Clifton Suspension Bridge, always bigger and better than one remembers, and a lunch stop. Leaving Bristol could not have been more different. Another old Brunel bridge, this time as a cycle path, through the grounds of an enormous stately home at Ashton Court and 2 miles later, with red deer in the shade of oaks, we emerged into countryside once more.

22 MAY 2018

The last two days have given us the most beautiful cycling. The Welsh borderlands of Shropshire, Herefordshire and Monmouthshire are full of gentle beauty. No Scottish highlands or Cumbrian fells but wooded hillsides and curving valleys, empty spaces and every shade of green. The hedges and woods are alive with birdlife – the urgency of early summer on a fine day. The winds have been favourable and the days not too long and even the towns are welcoming, full of history and bearing none of the tourist fatigue of busier destinations. People pass the time of day and are keen to help. A minor fix in a bike shop led to an argument about money changing hands, ” give a tenner to your charity”, “no yours!”. People cannot do enough.

The last 20 miles of today was through the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean. Very hilly and thus very testing of the Achilles. Total climb today was more than 4,000 feet! The last days are the toughest, especially in terms of climb so I’m still dosing, icing, strapping, etc. and realising I can just take one day at a time. Day 10 complete. 4 to go!

22 MAY 2018

This was a day of massive contrasts. From the open fields and pony clubs of rural Lancashire, into the deprivation of Runcorn, with broken glass strewn cycle paths, 1960s housing ideas and the air full of the sounds and smells of confined space living. A new cycle path wound is way through – a picked out thread of optimism through a cloth of near despair.
Over the canal and into Cheshire. In the space of a few miles the landscape changed again. A climb of Frodsham hill took us immediately into privilege and space once more. Solid red brick cottages had space and 4x4s and we were back on leafy lanes. Our friends Richard and Rachel live at the far side of Delamere Forest. A cool run through this ancient woodland completed the day of contrasts and to another wonderful welcome.

22 MAY 2018

Our two nights spent at home were a fantastic oasis, full of friends, family and encouragement. But leaving the receptions and the cheers behind brings its own pleasures. The simplicity of the itinerant life, a sense of journeying once more away from rather than towards, and the clearer underlying sense of momentum re-emerging were all welcome.

Our route through Lancashire was into a hot headwind. Never strong, but pernicious. By the time we had picked our way between the connurbations and arrived in Widnes we were ready for a break, only to find we had a significant challenge in finding our way onto the Runcorn Bridge…..

19 MAY 2018

A day of key moments. Over Shap summit (the route’s highest point), coffee with family in the riverside sunshine in Kendal, through the halfway point of our total mileage around Warton and then, to cap it all, a fantastic reception at the hospice complete with cake, sandwiches, tea and a welcoming committee complete with banners! Just brilliant!

A short day but scenic and sunny and we are in to the second half. Still treating the Achilles with everything to hand. Still wracked with doubts about whether it will hold up, but reminding myself I was saying that on the shores of Loch Lomond and I’ve got this far!

18 MAY 2018

Another 70ish miles forward today. Decent surface and no major climbs. We followed various wide quiet roads down across the border – a major landmark – and down through Carlisle and Penrith. Old A roads predating the motorway and old Roman roads predating everything gave us an opportunity to cover direct miles south, the only drawback being the psychological challenge of miles of dead straight roads. Jac met us in the van frequently for me to ice the Achilles. This looks worse but feels unchanged compared with yesterday in terms of pain. Still just seeing how it goes mile by mle and day by day.

The scenery changes constantly. Snowfields and high moorland of a few days ago gave way to the southern uplands with the daffodils still in full bloom. In turn the fertile lands of northern Cumbria were already yielding there first cut of silage. In between these landscapes the ingenuity of planners has given us cycle paths winding through urban environments or had us braving three lanes of motorised impatience on busy junctions. Tomorrow, ankle permitting, we come over Shap and through Kendal. I am aiming for the hospice before the café closes at 3pm. Can’t wait. At last I can have one of those little shortbread biscuits with my latte – I’ve been saying no to those for 6 months!

18 MAY 2018

Nearly at the border!

17 MAY 2018

70 miles done. Iced every 10 miles at the road side. The Southern Uplands come and gone. My life saved by a palliative care nurse. The irony does not escape me. We will see what tomorrow brings.

 

17 MAY 2018

Strapping. Anti inflammatories. Pain killers. Ice. See you in 40 miles after we’ve wound through Glasgow and out through the south side. A mixture of glorious cycle path and stop start stuff. The pain, negligible at first, built over the miles until I hobbled into sight of the van. My whole leg bumed and I felt sick. Patient’s pain histories went through my head. I took my own. Starting at the bottom of the calf, burning, spreading through the whole leg, making me feel sick and weak. Shooting with every turn off the pedals. But the ice pack was transforming! Half an hour later I was back on the road

17 MAY 2018

Getting back to fitness after my heart attack was crucial for me. I slept little last night, realising in adversity that successfully completing this event is not just some unfinished business of old. I cannot countenance failing and being ok with that.

17 MAY 2018

There are times in life when one feels unbelievably lucky. I remember reading an account of a major expedition, a solo sailing endeavour, where the protagonist described not planning to avoid events but to manage those that would inevitably arise.
My luck? My brother in law Dave whose generosity of spirit (and his awareness that the right number of bikes to own is n+1 where n= the number of bikes currently owned) meant that in fading light he and I stripped my defunct machine like piranhas on a dead animal, and cleaned, lubed, adjusted and kitted out one of his n bikes. I went to my bed with one problem solved.

17 MAY 2018

I felt fit. Averaging 14mph up >1200′ of ascent and enjoying every moment. The joy of crossing paths with strangers continued in the form of a man on a panier laden bike reaching the top of a sharp climb. We plied him with flapjack and heard his tale. He was raising awareness and funds for lymphoma research in memory of his late son. He was aiming to get to j o’g on his 70th birthday. Humbling. We had a further sobering moment when Richard got into the gutter at speed, hit a drainage channel and landed 20 feet away on tussock grass, unhurt but shaken.

The cycling was glorious – warm dry and sunny. The dreaded miles alongside Loch Lomond proved similarly delightful as a great section was closed to motor traffic by some temporary works. The only down side for me was an increasing pain around my left Achilles…….

At the end of Loch Lomond, the Highlands were behind us. We piled into the van and drove to my sister’s 30 mins away. By the time we got there I knew I was in trouble. A sizeable boggy tender swelling had evolved and the pain was significant. A regime of anti inflammatory treatment and ice commenced but the whole lower leg felt nauseatingly sore. End of event I feared. This was heightened when, checking the bikes, I discovered the frame of mine had failed. The base around the seat post had almost fractured right through and could have failed catastrophically at any time. It was a write off.

17 MAY 2018

High pressure built after yesterday’s cold front and Glencoe looked stunning. Clear cold air and beautiful l light contrasted with the day before. Roz had got close to hypothermia last time she cycled down the Glen but today found us in good rhythm tackling the long steady ascent up to Rannoch Moor. The highlands at their absolute best.

17 MAY 2018

Our day down the Great Glen proved a long one. Not a huge mileage or climb but out first taste of a proper headwind. Most rides out are a circuit and will have their share of wind conditions. We had 10 – 20 mph of wind on the nose all day. The impressive north side of Ben Nevis hid its face in cloud. Traffic intimidated. But the miles ticked away and the lochs and forests shared their beauty along with some of the peaks. With relief we smelt the sea air of the west coast and swung east, racing the last few miles into Glencoe on smooth tarmac with that wind now pressing firmly on our backs, feeling fresh at the end of the day.

14 MAY 2018

Last night found us sharing a large single dinner table in the Crask Inn. A drover’s inn for nearly 200 years, it now survives in its remote location on a mixture of becoming the favoured stop off for cyclists heading to John O’Groats and the local church. A wide parish indeed. The nearest occupied dwelling is an almost equally isolated farmhouse 6 miles away.
Sharing a meal table with a group of interesting strangers was a transient delight, and all involved roused themselves to send us off on a bright clear morning into a gentle southerly breeze. I think we’ll look back on these days as blessed. We are far enough north in Scotland to be beyond the Highlands and into the wide open flatter spaces beyond – more reminiscent of remote corners of New Zealand than the UK.
Some of the scenery was stunning as we followed a growing river through ancient forest down towards the sea once more. The day featured 3 decent climbs, with the last one the biggest.

We descended very gradually, the breeze cancelling any benefit from loss of height, alongside lochs and through small villages waking up both to this day and, more broadly, to tourism. A boarded up pub had been painted bright orange – a last optimistic throw of the dice on the way to insolvency. Lower down the settlements grew in scale and wealth. Beuly was particularly attractive, especially after a few miles on the A9. This had us cycling in the verge as HGVs rattled past at speed, buffeting us with air bullied out of the way. We found ourselves pedalling quickly partly to get it over with and partly as somehow the energy of such roads is strangely infectious.

Every few miles the support van appears in a layby or town square. It’s 27 years old and R&R can’t agree exactly how many miles it has done. We joke that actually the Lucida is doing the trip and we are riding support bikes for it! When we spot it we descend like locusts, filling water bottles and snack pockets. Quick stretch. Quicker chat. We leave Jac behind – rolling on as quickly as we had appeared. I don’t think Jac knows really what a difference it makes to see her ahead – always in the right place at the right time.

The final climb seemed inexorable. It proved steep and joyless. The straight lines of farmed trees with dark and lifeless ground beneath had lost their novelty many miles back down the road. A rattling descent on poor road surface brought us close to Loch Ness and our day’s end. Looking at maps now gives a sense of progress.

Tomorrow gives us a Scottish coast to coast along the Great Glen to Glencoe. Headwinds are forecast. We’ll get an early start.

13 MAY 2018

The route start hugs the north coast of Scotland for miles – due west before turning south and pointing to Cornwall more than 900 miles away. Like last lungfuls before diving in. Miles south feel like progress. Like rewards. Our first hours then kept the sea to our right, cycling across the grain of the land in persistent rain. Climb descend repeat. Hired inexperienced campervans alternated with fast locals who know the road. All kicked up spray.
Turning south had us putting the traffic, and mercifully the rain, behind us. The route became beautiful, winding along a single track road amidst ancient mossy birch forest. The birdlife was bustling, making the most of the hours after rain. The miles rolled by.
Gradually we climbed and river valley and woodland gave way to moorland and heather. Long climbs added up and energy sapped away until the unlikely Crask Inn appeared. Middle of nowhere doesn’t quite capture it! First day done and all is good.

 

12 may 2018

Heading north on the A9. Thanks Jane and David for the wonderful hospitality last night.
Late night headache. Shades on. Bob Dylan on the radio. Sun in the sky. Journeying. Excited.

 

27 APR 2018

Felt great after my big ride last weekend – then misread the ground leaving the house on Tuesday morning, missed the step and tweaked my knee. Traffic and 5000 feet of ascent soundly dealt with – then defeated by my own varifocals. There’s no dignity in middle age!

 

22 APR 2018

Long solo ride today. I felt the need to do a climb and distance that would leave me unfazed by any single day on the trip. I chose a route of 70 hilly miles over Kirkstone Pass, along Ullswater, back through limestone country up to Shap and home past the Howgills.
I learnt loads. Riding alone, and keen to succeed in 3 weeks time, I found myself focussed on every personal detail: how’s my back feeling? Can I really sit on this saddle for that long? How are my legs? Am I drinking enough? What about food?
It took the deep engine rumble of a pair of Apache attack helicopters, flying low and fast up the lake, to jolt me away from such introspection. I was suddenly brought back to the sunlight glinting on the water, to the remnant fragments of snow on high and a sunglasses and shorts ferry queue watching the arrival of the steamer, glistening in its fresh spring varnish. The Lakes are playing summer and the miles slip by once more. Later, when the climbs are starting to tell, my relapsing self analysis is challenged by an ear phone and an album or two from my youth. The Average White Band gets me to Shap summit. Santana get me home. I am not fazed yet.

 

15 APR 2018

I was expecting to spend a few hours of this weekend carving a solitary line through the lanes around a friend’s Warwickshire home, just clocking up some miles. Instead I was treated to a fantastic guided 90km tour from Virgil, a mustard keen local cyclist with a passion for classic bikes. Great company. Great scenery. Great route. Well done too to my mate Dan who completed the route in borrowed kit on one of Virgil’s classics having not been on a bike for years.
Thank you both for a memorable day!

 

12 APR 2018

I’ve watched so much Peaky Blinders I dream in a Brummie accent. Winter’s been spent sitting on a turbo trainer in 56 minute blocks – the standard box set episode duration – listening to the wind whistle past the window, and getting out into Lakeland snow clad mountains, mumbling about the value of cross training. Trying to get out on the road has been about wrapping up and hoping the easterly drops enough to still be able to feel my feet when I stop for a coffee.

Now, with four weeks or so left to go, its about longer rides. Snow drift remnants have still sheltered behind some dry stone walls but the daffs are out, the lambs are ganging up on field high points and there’s some warmth when the sun breaks through. Thanks to those who have accompanied me out on the road!

Now it’s about getting my head around doing this all day every day for a fortnight, making sure my back straightens again when I get off the bike each evening and persuading my arse that this is a reasonable project! Between you and me the last of these may be the biggest challenge!

 

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