After our atrocious mileage on day 10 it would be necessary for Carl to really put in a massive effort if we were to stand any chance at all of finishing today.
At his lowest point the previous day Carl had basically told Vince and I to leave him, so that he could take two days to finish the remaining 70 miles as he said that he simply did not have 70 miles in him. In a restaurant that night we all had a serious discussion about the options. Vince and I had tried everything that we could think of on day 10 to get 50 miles out of Carl, as I knew that if we could get him close enough then however bad he was feeling we could all finish on the Tuesday as planned. When we only managed 35 miles it was looking increasingly unlikely. Carl’s wife telephoned me and pleaded with me not to leave Carl. Fortunately we were sat in a restaurant and so with Carl being able to hear every word I unloaded all of my disappointment, frustration and annoyance as well as vocalising my belief that if Carl could muster up the will to start the ride the following morning he would finish it. I had, after all, been here before with Carl when we did the back to back Isle of Wight ride several months earlier. Then Carl has ‘quit’ at the end of the first night, only to be persuaded to start the following morning and to go on to finish the ride in reverse much faster than he had done it the previous day! So with a three-way ‘pincer’ movement applied to Carl, and after a lot of persuasion, cajoling and some ‘give’ with regard to the departure time, Carl agreed to start with us in the morning and to see how far he could get.
Exactly three minutes after the agreed wake-up time, at 6.03am the following morning Vince arrived at the door of my room, dressed and ready! He informed me that he was going to suggest something that I wouldn’t like. He suggested that we take the much more direct A30 route (despite all of the reports that this is like a ‘road of death’ for cyclists!) A route that we had been determined to avoid. Vince just ‘felt’ that it would be quicker, less hilly and would enable us to have the best chance of finishing. I had reached the same conclusion, albeit with a much more scientific approach. After spending half the night plotting alternative routes it was clear that the A30 would be about three miles shorter, but more importantly it would reduce the vertical climbing by almost 25% from the route we had originally planned! That would make it much more achievable for Carl. So it was agreed. We would change the route and take the A30, against my better judgment.
After a very light breakfast (Vince was eager to get going, and Carl was still feeling ‘delicate’) we set off. Carl was complaining of stomach ache from the off. We took the A38 out of Liskeard towards Bodmin, a road that started life as a dual carriageway (but this early it was very quiet) and then reduced to a single lane as the traffic increased. Surprisingly we were flying along at an alarming pace, despite hills and traffic we were averaging over 13½ miles an hour! The speed was only reduced by Carl’s need for a visit to the toilet – a theme which would continue and even intensify in the coming miles!
At this stage, even allowing for Carl’s calls of nature and his obvious discomfort I was certain that we would make the end by early afternoon.
At Bodmin we turned onto the A30. The progress that we made along this road was startling! Whether it was the road surface (which was good), the more consistent gradients which made climbs easier or the adrenaline produced by the fear of death, we were flying along! Despite being a dual carriageway and despite the volume of traffic we powered through the miles, although several times we had to leave the A30 for unplanned toilet stops! It was a difficult dilemma: We knew that we needed to keep feeding Carl in order to keep his energy levels up, but we also knew that everything we were putting into him was being ‘turned around’ pretty quickly and was going to mean another stop within a short space of time! But the energy was necessary. In the course of the rest of the day Carl was going to visit pretty much every public and serviced convenience between Bodmin and Lands End!
The road builders who had constructed the A30 had made a good job of ironing out many of the hills. The road still went over them, so the amount of up and down was still significant, but the hills were not the short steep hills that we had been used to from the previous couple of days. They were long, sustained climbs at a less steep incline. This made things easier for Carl, who in spite of his perpetual ‘discomfort’ was coping with these much better than he coped with most hills on the trip.
I would ordinarily try to describe some of the many unusual things that we saw or that happened to us in the course of the miles that we travelled. Unfortunately for the final day the cycling was some of the most dull and disinteresting of my entire life! Other than the constant feeling that just behind you, driving way too fast up the inside lane was the Grim Reaper, laughing hysterically behind the wheel of his Nissan Micra or his white van (take your pick – they both drive as bad!) there was nothing at all interesting about the fifty plus miles of the A30. The boredom was only punctuated by the frequent stops to either wait for Carl to climb the last hill or to wait for Carl as he answered an incessant number of calls from Nature!
Eventually the road became a single carriageway, although my initial delight at being off the two lane quasi-motorway was short lived as I realised that we were now on a single lane quasi-motorway, and that the Grim Reaper wouldn’t even have to make an obvious effort! But the further we got towards Lands End the lighter the traffic would become until eventually we reached Penzance, the last big town before the end! After stopping for what we believed was the final ‘rest stop’ from Carl (although we were later to discover that there was an encounter with a bush between Penzance and Lands End!) we continued on the last 10 miles of our epic journey. Now we were prepared for the fact that Cornwall is hilly. But we did not expect some of the worst hills to come in the very last 10 miles of the trip. I had been tweeted to advise me to same some energy for Penzance but thought that the author was merely pulling my leg being so close to the end. But alas, no. The hills out of Penzance are real grinders. And because you are so close to the end each time you get to the top you think that it must be downhill from here, only to find a bit of down and another gruntingly difficult up. What mountaineers call ‘false summits’. And there were at least half a dozen in that last ten miles!
Eventually though, from a vantage point at the top of a hill, I was able to see sea to my left, sea to my right, and sea in front! And more importantly I could see the village of Sennen, the southernmost outpost of civilization in mainland Britain, a mile away from the theme park of Lands End! After waiting for Carl one last time (while he communed with the aforementioned bush!) we set off down the last road, sloping downhill to Lands End!
Crossing through into the car park we were greeted by the attendant. “End to enders?” he asked.
“Yep”, Vince and I replied. Carl just grunted!
“Well done chaps”, the attendant said, and waved us through! And we freewheeled down the last 100 yards to the faded line on the tarmac with “Start / Finish” painted on it. As we crossed that we looked around for our waiting WAGs. They were not there! We dismounted, Carl almost fell into first mine, then Vince’s arms and grunted “Thank you, mate” to each of us. Then he said “I need the toilet!” and promptly dropped his bike and ran into the main park area! It was the fastest that I had seen him move throughout the whole trip!!!
Our WAGs were waiting for us by the famous signpost, figuring that our journey would rightly end there. After a number of increasingly irate calls during which we tried to explain that we were missing a member of our trio Carl eventually rejoined us for the last 30m around the corner to the signpost, and our adoring followers! Not before Tom Stringer (the solo end-to-ender we had met in Glasgow, met again on the road from Strathaven, left at Carlisle and had been following on Twitter since) had crossed the line, only about five or ten minutes behind us! It was an impressive effort from Tom, particularly that he had been a full day behind us when we reached Okehampton! He looked like shit though, and had apparently grabbed three hours sleep under a bridge the previous night so keen was he to try to catch up with us!
After the obligatory photos (we unloaded the last £16.50 of the kitty into the official photographer – although the guy here was much happier, and more friendly than his unbelievably miserable counterpart who we had left 11 days prior, he was also much more commercially switched on, refusing to allow the signpost to be used for your own photos unless you first pay for the official one!
After all of the happy snapping it was time to retire to the land of beer and food for a few welcome days off! We had rented a house about a mile away, so Vince and I thought it would be a fitting end to the trip to cycle to the house. After all, it was only another mile!
“Bugger that!” said Carl, who promptly put his bike into one of the cars and got a lift!