As most of you may have gathered by other sources, I made it to John O'Groats, at about 2pm on Wednesday. The surprise was that my mother turned up, all the way from Sussex, which meant I had champagne (which we didn't drink) and some photos of me arriving.
Day 12 (Wed 23/05/07)
Helmsdale to John O'Groats
Day Miles 54
Total miles 958
I joked the night before that I hadn't needed any of the four inner tubes I'd brought, and that I'd probably get four punctures on the last day. I didn't, but I got one 40 miles from the end, travelling downhill at 20mph. It wasn't a blowout, thankfully, but it was caused by a cheap inner tube supplied by the man in Dumfries who gave me a new wheel - the hole was right next to where the valve is glued to the tube. I changed the tube in 10 minutes, which was satisfying as it usually takes me much longer, and back on the road.
By that time I'd already passed the only significant obstacles on the way - deep valleys at Helmsdale and, notoriously, Berriedale. Even back down in Aviemore the doctor had joked to me about how hard I'd find Berriedale. Of course I didn't - I pushed my bike the whole way up. By this time I'd lost my lowest gear again, so it wasn't very feasible to cycle up it.
I then had problems with my saddle, which started swivelling about. As it's a sprung seat, the saddle post fits inside the main seat post which is attached to the frame. The connection between the first two had become worn, so that the saddle was just sitting inside the seat post. It made riding slightly more difficult - you steer essentially by using your hips to guide the bike, so if the seat swivels as you try to do this you lose some control. It wasn't critical, and I managed to get the 10 miles or so to Wick, where I found a man in a bike repair shop who did it for me for free.
The last stretch into John O'Groats from Wick is quite exposed, with strong cross-winds, and a little hill just before the end too, which is a touch frustrating. But from the top of the hill there's a great view of Orkney - I'm not sure when I'll next have an opportunity to go there, so it was a shame I couldn't this time.
There's a nice long freewheel down the hill into John O'Groats, which is just a small collection of buildings around a tiny ferry harbour. There's no fanfare to greet you - 4000 people do this annually, I was passed on the road by a couple of guys (on good bikes, with only one pannier each (Mummy had turned up to take some of their luggage)), I met one at the end, and as I was leaving 6 in identical clothes streamed in, having probably done it in under a week. As one of my guidebooks says, don't expect a pat on the back from the landlord of the Groats Inn, he gets a dozen people a day in. He was mostly moaning about how it rains every day from September to April.
I didn't have any sense of euphoria or relief when I arrived. I suppose the arrival of my mother added an unexpected domesticity, but I think I'd already factored it in by then - when you spend days trying to achieve something, but know for the last two or three that you are going to make it, then the final arrival doesn't feel like such a huge achievement. I wasn't staggering over the line in exhaustion or pain, as in a marathon, and it's not as if the destination is stunningly beautiful (apart from the pleasant view of the Orkneys) as when you climb a mountain. I was a tiny bit underwhelmed, and just looking forward to the train ride home.
Here's some pics of me arriving:
I didn't cycle back to Wick in the end - the bus could take bikes, and I wasn't too keen on 17 miles back into the wind, so we hung around JoG in a cafe for a couple of hours until the bus left. It wasn't due to lack of energy though - my mother was surprised that I was so lively, but I'd only done 54 miles that day so still had plenty of miles left in me.
After a couple of drinks and sitting around I was pretty tired, and only managed to watch half of the Champions League Final that night, falling asleep at 9pm (and waking up at 5.30am) The journey back from Wick was long but not unpleasant - 4 hours to Inverness, another 3.5 to Edinburgh, then 4.5 hours to London, then I had a 4 mile ride back home from King's X (along the Marylebone Road, which I still consider one of the more dangerous roads in the country)
I now have access to plenty of pics, so I'll put some of those up, and also draw my route out properly.