This year my dad and I have quite literally cycled the length and breadth of Britain together.
From coast to coast and end to end we pedalled our way from the Irish Sea back to Whitby and from the tip of Cornwall to beyond the Scottish Highlands, taking us ten days altogether.
But while the coast to coast’s 150 miles required one long day in June, the 980 of Land’s End to John O’Groats’ were a monstrous proposition: nine back-to-back days with 100+ miles of cycling.
Thankfully we weren’t alone in the undertaking.
Around 800 riders took part this year – and we had the luxury of having our luggage transported in vans to the various camping stops.
Despite the assistance, over 200 people didn’t make it all the way. Undoubtedly the greatest challenges were mental rather than physical.
Those who went the distance weren’t always the fittest or the fastest, but those who dug deepest in the face of a downpour or a headwind.
Our daily century of miles was made less unbearable by our infectiously chipper, and super humanly strong, companions Mel and Ruth – Whitby’s premier cycling double act.
Me and dad watched on as they overtook male riders for fun. More entertaining than the rolling countryside was the exasperated look of a male cyclist gasping for breath while Mel and Ruth flew past them effortlessly, while holding a casual conversation about what they’d watched on telly the week before.
They sustained this remarkable pace day after day – leaving us for dead on countless occasions too.
For me the journey wasn’t quite so smooth. On the hilly first day out of Cornwall a mechanical issue meant I had to use relentlessly heavy gears for every climb. On day three I came down with a sickness bug that zapped every ounce of energy out of my legs and made eating anything for energy near impossible.
To be burning 6,000 calories a day and not to be able to eat anything is a unique form of torture.
But despite the physical anguish it was difficult not to be in awe of our country’s majesty.
And having now observed the changing landscape of our green and pleasant land, it’s safe to say that it gets better the further north you go. (I’m not just saying that as a disgruntled Whitby exile now living in London.)
The south’s countryside – with the exception of Cheddar Gorge – was underwhelming. The midlands were middling and it wasn’t until we reached Lancashire, the Lake District and then the Scottish Highlands that the jaw dropped lower and lower.
But honestly, only the Highlands could compare to North Yorkshire.
As cheesy at it sounds, the journey was an emotional rollercoaster – but a rollercoaster you had to push yourself round on astride a hard plastic saddle.
Crossing the line with my family waiting after nine days of hell was genuinely overwhelming.
And I’m not patriotic, but there was a certain satisfaction in drawing a St George’s cross out of cycle routes this year. And actually completing the journey on my Dad’s 50th birthday is a memory I already cherish.