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Ralph Dadswell's End-to-End, Land's End to John 0'Groats - 10-12 August 1992   Back to Rides in 1992

2 days 5 hours 29 minutes


Some memories of the ride, by myself, John Dalton, in capacity of advisor, helper, driver, photographer, and general factotum as part of the back up team.

Prior to my retirement in February this year, I was a professional meteorologist and weather forecaster for the past 42 years; I was also a club cyclist and time triallist.

Hence, my inevitable involvement in providing weather forecasts for RRA attempts, probably the first one in earnest being almost 10 years to the week - John Woodburn's successful End to End in August 1982.                                                             

Since then, also with Pauline Strong and Andy Wilkinson (through Keith Boardman) regarding End to Ends; many other riders for various attempts, but probably in the main Dave Pitt.

I had also provided advice for Ralph's successful London to Bath and back, and last year his Edinburgh to London and on to his successful 24 hours record.

And so to my involvement with this attempt.

Being retired left me relatively free to help at short notice, but access to all the weather charts was obviously a problem; with a little ingenuity and friends I was soon able to see on a fairly regular basis Prognoses up to five days ahead. Calling upon my past experience, we were soon looking for a 'window', with Ralph being prepared to wait until about the end of August.

This period is always a problem, with the rider wanting to get on with it. For any particular attempt, the perfect conditions may perhaps only occur on a few occasions per year - particularly the End to End with such a geographical distance being involved. So often a compromise has to be reached if the rider is determined to go anyway - taking the best possible forecast, recognising that it may not be ideal (remember Andy Wilkinson's light winds and lengthy period of rain).

And so, Ralph was looking for conditions which were obviously not unfavourable, but hopefully mainly favourable for most of the ride - not perfect with a screaming tailwind all the way, but with a mainly tail component for most of the ride, enabling to 'go' sometime in August.

The first sign of suitable conditions for the attempt were glimpsed during the middle of the week beginning 2nd August. The extended prognosis suggested that a Monday 10th August start may be possible. Each following day, the latest charts were inspected, and it was becoming increasingly more likely that basically favourable conditions would occur from Monday 10th.

On Saturday 8th August, during the morning, my forecast was for light, mainly westerly, soon backing southwesterly, for the start; this would soon freshen, then back southerly and decrease on the first night; it would further freshen SSW'ly on the second day, remaining, favourable on the second night, with the end of the ride being the main problem. At this stage, this looked like WNW'ly or perhaps westerly - not entirely favourable, but not particularly adverse.

Ralph decided to go for it. I, late on Saturday evening, visited the Met Office Headquarters to see the latest charts - this being the final let-out. If the forecast had changed dramatically, Ralph was prepared to cancel at this late stage. The forecast for the beginning of the ride was much the same as for that when the original decision was made, and to our benefit the threatened WNW'ly on the last morning of the ride seemed less likely - with perhaps a southerly component to his benefit.

Late on Saturday evening, the 8th August, the irreversible decision was taken, to start 0800 Monday 10th August.

His plan was activated, and we arranged to travel down to Land's End on the following day, Sunday 9th.

Whilst on about the weather, I'll summarize what happened during the ride, briefly.

On reaching Land's End on Sunday, the wind was still a fresh NW'ly, but it had time to back and decrease to mainly westerly by Monday morning, as I was expecting. Indeed, at the start with a little sea mist, there was a light WSW'ly. After the off, as Ralph climbed onto Bodmin moor, the wind freshened from the southwest, and he had a good tailwind for the first day's ride - putting him soon up on schedule, with an average of around 'evens'. In fact, I think that in the first twelve hours about 240 miles were covered, with the first 100 in about 4 hours 45 minutes. The wind did slacken overnight, but was mainly from the south.

The first major climb the next day over Shap also had a following wind, but became more variable, in rain and drizzle, on the busy A/M 74 into Scotland. The wind remained basically helpful into the second night up to the start of the climb over Drumochter. Mountains play a significant role in determining the local wind direction, especially at night, and this was no exception with stretches of basically unfavourable winds.

By daylight on the third day, some southerly component was still in evidence, but a worrying easterly component was becoming evident. In fact, the situation had changed from my original forecast with a depression being further south than anticipated, deepening and moving east across Scotland. This resulted in a wet and windy finish, with the wind off the sea, cool and mainly easterly, but with some tail component at times. Not ideal, but not quite a disaster. It could have been better!

A few memories of his ride, other than a basic historical account follow.

On the Sunday night prior to the start we stayed at a farmhouse at Sennen near Land's End, up a track, mainly loose stone, some distance from the main road. Ralph's car, with all the load of trikes and equipment, was bottoming on the rocks, but at a snail's pace we made it to the farm. During the late evening Ralph was having his final briefing, and instructing Audrey Hughes and myself about his feeds etc, when another guest at the farm - a German lady - complained about our 'chat'. The farmer's wife didn't complain, and was enthusiastic enough to come to the end of the lane to wave Ralph by, and take a photograph when he had started his ride.

Just the one following vehicle the first day with Audrey Hughes and myself sharing the driving and feeding every 40 minutes or so. An added complication was the inability of the mobile phone to contact the outside world, so we had to resort to finding public phones.

Ralph's brother Tim joined us at Tewkesbury, and Pat Kenny at Wolverhampton. For the second arduous part of the ride Martin Purser (himself having ridden a 'twelve' on Sunday), Hedley Stennett, Roger Hughes and Bob Fotheringham joined with a second vehicle. Despite this, the task was still formidable, with little if any rest.

I was impressed by the large numbers of marshalls and observers out on the road, right from Penzance, with hardly a town without anyone. In Exeter, it was particularly useful, and through the maze in the evening rush at Bristol with a marshal on each turn. Pauline Strong was out also. One town later, I think Worcester, an enterprising marshall had put old Milk Race signs adapted to "Ralph John 0'Groats" on lamp posts to guide us through.

Finally, at the last turn, we were met by a broadside bike with a giant 'dayglow' arrow pointing the way, and a cheerful wave from the individual.

Cheshire, Warrington and S. Lancs were particularly well marshalled, with many famous old riders out to see him on his way, including the legend John Arnold.     (We noticed the Mersey Road Club and Seamons CC).

Late in the second night, Inverness was deserted except for a solitary well­wisher on a roundabout. He enterprisingly bypassed the course to get ahead and turn up at other points to see us out of town and away North.

One memorable part of the ride was after the first night, somewhere near the bottom of Shap, where Ralph had a wash and his legs oiled. He thought it worth mentioning in a fit of depression, after having done over 400 miles, with the thought of another 400, that he may not finish and to prepare ourselves for him to pack. We told him we would tell him when to pack, and to forget it! When his low geared trike lost its inner chainwheel, breaking up near the summit of Shap, he reverted to his original trike. Martin Purser (who proved a tower of strength on the ride) and his helpers dashed off to Penrith then Carlisle to Border Cycles for a replacement and chased back to catch us on the A74 before Moffat.

It was my first stop in Moffat, to wash and shave in an attempt to revitalise - taking up the serious work again after Cowdenbeath to the finish.

Ralph rode strongly in the second night over Drumochter, although there were many stops to change lamps which were gobbling up the batteries. Also, when tending to 'drop off at the bars' he stopped for some sleep. Martin would throw a lilo on the ground and cover him with a sleeping-bag, for a supposed 10-15 minutes. In fact, we never gave him more than about 7 minutes, which seemed to do the trick.

Into the third morning and the punishing ride as expected was beginning to take its toll. We were not concerned, and it didn't seem over optimistic to expect him to finish around 1130, and beat the record by anything up to three hours. The weather then turned unfriendly, wet and windy, and not particularly helpful. The climbs were often, and short and sharp - with some longer hill-climb type passes to come. The speed was dropping, still no cause for concern, but with Helmsdale and Berriedale overcome, towards Lybster it became obvious that while he would still break the record, he would be well down on his schedule. We were hesitant of putting a guess, because that's all that it would be, of a time of finish at this stage.

Out of Wick, Ralph was obviously alert enough to know he had to turn right, but not sure where. His condition was deteriorating rapidly, and he was becoming a little confused; the weather was also deteriorating. Concern was showing on our faces. Ralph began to stop for no obvious reason, and despite pleas from all (Martin in particular), he was disinclined to continue. We couldn't come 830 odd miles for him to pack with a couple to go. The rules were strictly adhered to, as we talked him into continuing - with even the fittest running alongside him for considerable stretches, all soaking wet.

About a mile from the finish at John 0'Groats Hotel, I nipped down to the finish to get Hedley Stennett (the timekeeper) installed on the line. The intention was a quick turnaround, to get back to Ralph to make sure he got to the finish. To my surprise, he then came down the hill at a great rate of knots, having decided to get going again. I had to turn again, double­quick, to get a picture of him at the finish.

Martin soon had him in the van, with heater full on, and put some dry clothes on him. The Hotel wanted Ralph inside to sign the visitors book, which he soon did; by now he was beginning to appreciate what a ride he had done. A touching moment here, when Dave Pitt rang the Hotel to congratulate him within a short time of the finish.

After tea and coffee, it was out of John 0'Groats and the horrendous weather to Lybster and night at the hotel. The landlord, when hearing of the ride, produced a bottle of Champagne to toast the ride and Ralph. Later, when hearing that Ralph and I were sleeping in a shared room in the outhouse, he moved us into separate rooms in the hotel proper.

In conversation with a young Scot in the hotel bar during the evening, we discovered a remarkable knowledge of RRA attempts over the years. Riders and times were on the tip of his tongue.

We left about 1300 hours on Thursday, and although following the A9 back to Inverness, we then took the A82 to pass Loch Ness. On to Loch Lomond and to Glasgow, we had a pleasant day in the mountains with some time to do the tourist scene. Finally, unwinding in Glasgow before a long dash back south to drop Roger off in Manchester, and returning to the High Wycombe district.

I now know what Ralph meant when he said "Can I have a week of your life?". Was that all it was? It passed quick, but you might say we did quite a lot, not least of all Ralph, with a fine record to his credit. By now his blisters must have been going down, as he was talking of: If... If... anyone else goes for his trike End to End, and succeeds, he may, just may, consider going for it, himself, again !

John Dalton     17/8/92

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