(Almost at) Lands End, Cornwall, 4am on the longest day of the year...
Twenty motorcyclists had gathered just before sunrise in the semi-darkness. Amongst these leather-clad riders was a furry Pikachu, an Elmo and a tiger, not forgetting the blow-up crocodile, all an indication that this was no ordinary ride-out. This was the start of The Longest Day Down (Up) Challenge - a charity ride-out for Cancer Research UK, where riders co-erced, nursed and willed their £300 machines to complete the 900-plus miles to get them from Lands End to John O'Groats before sunrise the next day.
Amongst those twenty riders were my other half, Keith, and our son-in-law Ben. Both anxious about whether the bikes would manage the distance or not but more so, if they would manage to stay awake for this endurance challenge. They had ridden their bikes down to the start the day before, in 32 degrees of sweltering heat and on what what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, so had been able to gauge the stamina of both man and machine.
At the briefing dinner the night before the start, Bens stick and cable-tie repair to splint a floppy wing mirror won the trophy for the 'Best Bodge' but that would turn out to be just a minor incident. Another pre-ride award was also handed out, that of a blow up croc, given the rider who turned up with a machine clearly worth more than three hundred quid, and was a pillion-penance for doing so.
All the riders set off with one goal - to complete the ride from one end of the UK to the other, so when Ben developed an electrical charging problem before the first pit stop at Cirencester, he feared it might be a ride north in the 'broom waggon' (the support vehicle that follows through behind the riders to pick up the breakdowns) However, with the support and joint brain power of Keith, they worked out a system of battery swapping - charge the battery on Keiths bike then swap it back and forth as required. The only problem with this was that the battery from Keiths Kawasaki was bigger than the one on Bens Yamaha which meant the seat wouldn't fit back on properly and made for a rather wobbly ride.
With around an hour lost, they were finally on their way again and Ben was relieved as he was determined he was not going to end up in the broom waggon - and at only the first pit stop too. No way! Meanwhile, Keith had also developed an oil leak, although nothing that a regular top up and an old rag to wick-away the leak wouldn't cure.
On reaching Lancashire, the busy afternoon roads proved a hold-up for all the riders, with a tricky route to avoid the motorway and sheer volume of traffic knocking off more precious time. Barring any breakdowns, it was anticipated though that the first riders would reach John O'Groats at around midnight, some twenty hours after the start.
Pretty much as predicted, the first two riders passed 'Challenge HQ' at John O'Groats at 11.58pm, riding the few extra hundred metres to the marker signpost to take a 'done it!' souvenir picture under the midnight blue twilight sky (it never gets truly dark at midsummer). Father and son team, Nigel and Ben Rea finally got off their vivid pink machines, tired and wet, having ridden through driving rain between Perth and Inverness. This was their third Longest Day Up Challenge, ridden with a purpose, as they had lost their wife and mother to breast cancer - the pink bikes a tribute to Kellie Rea. Rider three arrived half an hour behind the Rea guys, and two more riders rolled in at 2am, all recounting the troublesome heavy rain north of the border. It would be another hour or so before the next riders were due at John O'Groats, meanwhile, nothing had been heard from Keith and Ben and they had yet to reach the last pit stop at Inverness. What had happened to them?
A short while after 3am, news was received that my guys had finally passed through the Inverness pit stop along with the last two riders. Relieved, all was considered to be well and it was anticipated that they should arrive at John O'Groats at around 5am.
With many riders already tucked up in bed grabbing a few hours well deserved sleep, the support team were still up, and waiting for the last four riders to arrive. By now, the sun was up too and with the clock showing 05.40 Keith and Ben finally rolled in, picking up the accolade of 'last'. However, this didn't matter as they had completed the ride, safely and in one piece, raising several thousand pounds for Cancer Research UK in the process.
Questioning the discrepancy with the anticipated and actual arrival time, Keith admitted to the last hour being the most difficult.
"I was really surprised how I managed to stay awake so well for the whole ride. I had been warned though that the last hour would be the most difficult and that really is true. I just couldn't manage to keep my eyes open safely. I had to lie down in a layby for a power nap which got me through to the end. I know it meant we went over the 24 hours, what with the breakdown and the hold-ups but we finished!"
"For the last stage I was following behind Keith very closely as I couldn't have my headlight on as it would drain the battery. Thankfully, it doesn't get completely dark in Scotland at this time of the year but that didn't stop three police vehicles flashing me to turn on my light. Perhaps they couldn't see the LED bicycle light I had bought at a petrol station, and gaffer-taped to the front! It was the best I could do - I was determined to finish"
Having later heard the reports of the heavy rain between Perth and Inverness both Keith and Ben agreed that it was worth coming in at the end as the rain had passed through by the time they got there and so they didn't get wet at all.
Would they do it again? Keith didn't think so, but it was a lot easier than he thought it would be. Ben on the other hand had been really dreading it but he actually enjoyed it. It had been a lot easier than he thought too. For Ben it was a 'maybe'.
24 hours later both were overheard in conversation whilst scrolling through their phones...
"There is one here on Gumtree for £300" Said Ben.
"Oh, I've found a BMW on eBay for £200!" replied Keith
You work out if they will be back to do it again!
Their Just Giving pages are still open if you would like to add to their total.
The Longest Day Down (Up) Challenge www.
...and the little 'teddy bear' mascot you saw back in the previous blog?
He's already in training and will be rocking his stuff along-side his daddy & pops...
although probably not for a while!
However, it does seem that a certain power-starved Yamaha is destined to follow the route once more.
Sold to a new owner for - well, £300 of course!
Watch this space!