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Friday, 13 May 2011

Here comes the summer

Neither the rain nor the wind have been serious issues over the past eight weeks, but the 50 mile leg from Tongue to Thurso was beset by both. The road along the north coast is exposed and harsh, and we were buffeted about like the plastic carrier bag in American Beauty, without the lilting soundtrack or the romanticism (it's very hard to be pretentious when you're gurning your way up a hill with wet feet and a fluorescent yellow jacket on).

There was also no-one to film us struggling across the moorland, which is one of the many issues we've faced making a documentary without an independent camera crew, but the challenges have been offset by the freedom to travel how and when we like.

The last ride to John o'Groats, across lush green farmland and gentle rolling hills, was notable mainly for the sight of a cow eating the placenta of its newborn calf. Pushing through the pain in a thigh muscle I managed to strain the day before, we arrived without any more drama at our final destination.

Lady Luck, who has been perched on my handlebars, gave us one more gentle nudge to get our photo taken in front of the famous signpost taken before we had lunch. This was just as well as, a few minutes later, the official photographer had packed the sign up into his car and gone home. He said he doesn't bother sticking around too long during the spring months.

We got the obligatory stamp from the coffee shop and that was that. I have to admit that the end felt strangely empty. I wasn't expecting trumpets or congratulations. Hundreds of people have completed the same trip, most much more quickly or impressively or quirkily, or for a better cause. There was certainly a sense of relief because the relentless upheaval has really got to me. During the past few weeks I've felt like a stand-up comedian on a long tour, telling the same jokes, doing the same set every night to a different crowd. After a while comedians start incorporating the frustrations of life on the road into their sets, a temptation I've clearly failed to avoid. But we've been on the road for so darn long, and I've simply got so accustomed to living in this way, that it is hard to imagine it ever ending.

And yet, despite it all, spring is definitely drawing to a close. Having chased the yellow buggers across the whole country, we've caught the tail end of the daffodils, or at least the few dog-eared specimens still flowering among the dessicated brown stalks. But here they're flowering next to bluebells and tulips, a validation of the many people who said that, however early or late it begins, spring always catches up with itself.

This is only the story of one particular spring, along one particular route, as experienced by two particular - but very different - people. We have been exceedingly lucky in chancing on one of the most pleasant and dry springtimes in many years. But I defy anyone to disagree that it is by far the best season in this country, where the lands of England, Wales and Scotland are at their most "green and pleasant". It's a time for waking up early to watch the world wake, a few precious months filled with sounds that lift your heart and smells that sweep it away. Such that I pity people, like many we've met on the way, who live in countries where harsh winter leads straight into muggy summer and spring passes in the blink of an eye. To experience it for two whole months has been an indescribable pleasure.

Just one mile out of John o'Groats, all the rain that had held back came pouring down on us in one glorious go and the realisation that we'd actually made it finally hit me. Drivers seeing us slosh through massive puddles must have wondered at the massive grin on my face. Despite the many setbacks, my poor navigational skills (which have markedly improved), occasional frustrations and near permanent exhaustion, we made it through the whole of the UK in 1300 miles (425 more than were really necessary).

I'd like to say thanks to everyone who has supported us along the way - family, friends and strangers - who gave us food and somewhere to stay, as well as much-needed moral and financial support. I'd also like to say a massive thank you to Matt who agreed to take part in my mad and fractured plan after my previous cycling partner had to drop out at the last minute. We only met for the first time a few weeks before the start of the journey and it was a risk spending two months working and living cheek by jowl with someone I didn't know. A risk, it turns out, worth taking; instead of making an enemy out of a friend, I've made a friend out of a stranger.

The physical journey may be over but the really hard work is still to come; editing and selling Chasing Spring. I'll continue to blog here over the next few months, keeping you all updated as to what's happening with the documentary. But for now, I can't wait to jump on the train tomorrow morning, go home, put on a summer dress and get on with normal life for a while. I hope you've enjoyed following our journey and that the spring sunshine stays in your heart and stokes the internal fires until it returns next year.

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