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YHA Day 18: The finish. SYHA Tongue to John O'Groats
    12/08/2013 08:54

Day 18: The finish. SYHA Tongue to John O'Groats

It was the last day and, although we thought it would feel strange, it actually felt like all the others. To begin with anyhow.

We set off just after nine o'clock and started our ascent out of SYHA Tongue to Betty Hill. A hilly coastal road connects these two places and we'd heard from other cyclists to be prepared for a gruelling start. No sweat. We nailed it. It was a little reminder of the terrain back in Cornwall and besides who wants it easy on the last hurdles?

Day 18 Route: The finish. SYHA Tongue to John O'Groats
Mileage: 75 miles
Total Mileage: 1058 miles
Phrase of the Day: Let’s just keep riding forever

Not long after scoffing some sandwiches and leaving Betty Hill we found ourselves close to what we had decided was a major achievement. A Biking Good Ride was about to hit 1000 miles of brilliant cycling madness on its cycle computers. There was a little dispute between our two contraptions and their owners as to which was most accurate but what the heck a few miles in the grand scheme of things really didn't seem that important. We settled for a spot high up on open moor land between two bends in the road. It really was quite ugly looking back at it but out came the camera for a quick snap and mini celebration, in the form of another sandwich.

The route flattened out and we soon entered the last county of Caithness. We left the hills behind and rode an easy cycle to Dunnet Head. It was imperative that we visited this headland as it's the most northerly point in Great Britain and by doing so meant we could proudly stand up in the pub and each say - I've done that. Rather pointless really. We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous puffins that perch on the dramatic cliffs but they must have been busy. Instead we watched Tommy chat up a young whale-watching fanatic and nearly get blown into the North Sea.

The clock was ticking and we started to get quite excited, especially Tommy who, at this point, had eaten five pastries and a bag of Jelly Babies. Another bag of was murdered by a passing truck. This was arguably a better way to go than entering Tommy's sugar vortex. There was a collective buzz. We tried to exchange some meaningful words to be remembered for eternity; those life-changing and bonding slogans you often hear in the movies but nothing came out of any use. Instead it was decided to that we'd arrive in John O'Groats in our underwear. Many cyclists report the end to be an anti-climax, a blurry memory and easily forgotten. To fight the almighty powers of disappointment we pulled a giant wedge of English stupidity out of the bag to make ourselves a lasting memory. We think we achieved it.

The John O'Groats welcome team, consisting of a photographer, gift shop and burger bar, were packing up shop. It was late. After a couple of whoop whoop photos and we dashed to the souvenir shop to bash out some postcards for friends and family. It was all a little formulaic and by this time our clothes were back on meaning we were just like all the others that passed through that day. It can't be ignored, like Land’s End in Cornwall, John O’Groats is a weirdly strange place! One has to experience it to quite grasp it. We forgot to open a bottle of bubbly which was purchased some miles back, so we popped the top and sprayed each other in the face (Tom received the brunt of the Cava in the eye, not really the Formula One style showcase we were looking for).

So that was our last day. It played out a multitude of emotions amongst us all - elated, exhausted, excited, disappointed, happy, sad and hungry. We pitched our tent looking out over the Orkney Islands. It was the perfect view for what we all agreed was one of our greatness adventures.

By Harry Hosteller

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