In 2009 when I set out on my first end to end I had spent little time thinking about safety. I had devised a route that was built for speed, utilising busy main roads, many of which were dual carriageways. I was living in the invulnerability bubble that many cyclists inhabit before it is burst by an errant driver.
Since 2009 I have been knocked from my bike twice, once by a driver making a right turn without indicating, just in front of me, and once by a lorry changing lanes from the outside lane, though the inside lane and into the cycle lane!
My last two end to ends were a quest to find a safer route. Okay, it wasn’t hard to find a safer route than my original one but I wanted one as safe as possible without detouring miles and miles away from a relatively straight line. I was spurred on by the news of two fatalities on the A30: end to end charity cyclists on their first day. The lorry driver that mowed them down has recently been sentenced to eight years. Click here for my earlier rant on the sentence.
The first attempt was good but still had some very dangerous stretches in it. So I re-routed and set off again. This time the route was much quieter and safer.
However, just whilst I am in the process of creating the route as a set of downloadable gpxs, news of another end to end fatality has hit us. Again a lorry is involved and the cyclist was on her first day, this time starting from John O’Groats. (Link to story).
The accident happened in Bettyhill, right in the north of Scotland, the cyclist probably following the popular route to Lairg. I haven’t ridden on the road in question but imagine it is probably one of the quietest roads in the country. It has left me with the question hanging, can I promote a safer cycling route when cyclists are being killed on ‘safe’ roads? Is cycling end to end inherently dangerous and should I be encouraging people to cycle it at all?
Today is the big day in Scotland. Unless you have been visiting distant relatives in a galaxy far far away you cannot have failed to have noticed that today is the day that people living in Scotland get to vote whether they should remain as part of the UK.
One of the threats being wielded by the ‘no’ campaign is that the UK will set up border controls with Scotland if they vote for independence. In fact one group of pranksters has already set such a spoof control up (link).
Spoof Border Control
Of course, another way of looking at it is that the end to end will no longer end/begin at John O’Groats. If the idea it to cycle from one end of the UK to the other then it could soon end/begin at Berwick-Upon-Tweed, cutting the overall distance down to about 650 miles!If a border control is set up for real you will have to remember to carry your passport with you on your end to end if you want to get into (or out of) Scotland.
For the past few weeks the office I work at has been undergoing a major refurbishment. This has meant everybody is being squeezed into half the previous office space whilst the other half of the building is gutted. The upshot is that there is no room in the office for my bike. Rather than being forced onto the bus I arranged with a contact to leave my bike at their workshop. This adds a mile walk each way to my cycle commute but I prefer that to the evils of the bus. [This is a deep psychological scar left from having to travel by bus to school for 1 1/2 hours a day for 7 years when I suffered badly from travel sickness. I’m sure I’ll get over it some when but it has only been 30 years since the trauma, so early days yet.].
Larry at the Harbour
My walking route from the workshop to the office passes an oriental supermarket on a little used back street. As I walked by the other morning I couldn’t help but notice a lobster sat on the pavement outside looking a little confused. The sun was just cresting the buildings to the east, washing him with bright, warm light. Very pleasant but probably not ideal conditions for a lobster. Indeed, his efforts to get my attention by waving his rubber band bound claws at me was rather pathetically and I guessed he was already suffering.
Kneeling down I looked him in the eyes. They were small, beady, black and strangely intelligent. By some process of crustaceous telepathy he informed me that his name was Larry and unravelled an unlikely tale. He had been falsely accused of a crime and incarcerated in the local jail. Whilst awaiting trial the whole jail had been hauled out of the sea and he had been rudely dragged out and dumped in a basket by a stinky human (no offence intended). Than a whole load of stuff that he didn’t understand had happened until he finally managed to struggle to the edge of the basket and jump for freedom.
Sadly, he didn’t splash into the sea as he had expected but had landed with a crunch on this hard black stuff. He was now feeling tired and just a bit dried out. He wanted to get back to the sea so that he could clear his name and return to his family.
Well, the oriental supermarket was closed and I had to walk right by the harbour so I said I would be happy to give him a ride, as long as he didn’t mind just hanging loose in my hand because my bag was full. He wasn’t too keen on the hanging bit but with no one else with better transport prospects in sight he reluctantly agreed.
Walking to the harbour I got a few odd looks but no more than usual. The locals haven’t become accustomed to seeing a lycra clad, middle aged bloke wandering along their mean streets yet. In a few more weeks they’ll take no notice. They’ll probably get bored of sniggering and making snarky remarks as well. And their egg supply must be running low by now.
We made it to the harbour without incident and I carefully released Larry’s claws from the bands that bound them. We had only been together for 5 minutes but I felt some bond had grown between us. It was a sad moment as I bid him farewell and good luck in his mission to clear his name. As I lowered him into the water he gave me a final salute as he drifted to the bottom.
He just sort of sat there for a long time. A very long time. In the end I had to head on to the office and hope that he was going to be okay.
I worried about Larry all day but when I passed by on my return journey that evening he was gone. I can only assume he had taken a while to recover and had then made his way out through the harbour to home, wherever that might be.
When I first heard the news, 3rd hand, I thought the sentence reasonable because, although he had killed two people and devastated two families it was a mistake, an error of judgement. But then I read the article and changed my mind.
The driver fell asleep at the wheel. OK, many of us have made a poor judgement and driven perhaps when we were too tired or distracted to do so. Perhaps we have felt our eyes shutting and realised that it is just plain stupid and stop. We learn from that and don’t do it again.
Now this guy had the biggest wake up call you could imagine, causing two deaths. You would think after that he would be extremely careful. But no. 10 weeks later he caused another accident , nearly killing a third person, in almost the same circumstances.
According to his legal representative he feels genuine remorse. Bollocks! As I tell my kids, “Sorry means I won’t do it again.” I think the only thing he is sorry about is the fact that he is now banged up. For far too short a time.