Friday, June 7, 2013

I'll Take the High Road...and then I'll Take the Higher Road.

No photos or Links this time I'm afraid, although I'll try and add a picture or two in later on. Felt I should throw a offering out there though, as this could be the last chance I get before finishing the whole trip! I also feel an apology is in order for what I feel is slightly thin content. I wish there was more to write about in detail, but the sad truth is that 8 hours spent on a bike are not that interesting, and hours of head down, lung busting pedaling does not leave room for the kind of misadventures that might have cropped up if I'd been in control of a motorised vehicle! Still, it is, as ever, as much for me as for you, so I will continue to chunter on.
Inchcailloch Island - stunning!
So, after a day resting the old legs at Drymen, where Clare took me out to Inchcailloch Island in Loch Lomond, I was ready for the next few days. The 65 mile run out to Fearnan on Loch Tay was yet another lovely ride. Most of the roads,even the smaller ones in Scotland seem to run up the valleys rather than over the hills, so there was yet more rolling roads, Loch side splendour and fine weather to be had. I was finding it hard to believe that, after the shoddy cold and rain and wind I'd been struggling through for most of England, once I arrived in the Lake District and then Scotland - a place with a notorious reputation for having a poor climate - I was basking in the best weather of the trip. And I was certainly not  complaining.

It was a mostly uneventful ride from Drymen, apart from a slight kitchen-table miscalculation on the route during the first hour. When plotting my routes from my large scale AA road map, I had looked for opportunities to get off the A-roads as early as possible, taking small lanes as short cuts if they looked viable. unfortunately, and as I'd discovered on the first day in Cornwall, these small lanes are often just farm tracks. On this occasion, it began well enough with nice smooth tarmac,but once I got round the corner, it lost its seal, then became rutted and stoney and, just as I had decided to wheel the bike over the rough terrain, I got a puncture. Thirty seconds sooner on the dismount and I might have avoided it, but them's the breaks. Or holes, even. Rather than fixing the puncture and then having more rough track to risk another one, I wheeled the flat back wheel on up the track, which became more rustic the further it went. It was, I thought to myself, the kind of track that is likely to have a gate at the end of it. Aaaaannndddd Bingo! A gate. And two deer, mind you, but I was in no mood to be admiring wildlife with a locked gate in the way. Unload, life over, re-load, wheel on to the end just so I could unload it again to change the tyre. A big, unnecessary chunk of time wasted, but in the end, I reckon I caught up the time well enough. Just a bloody nuisance, that's all.
The bridge at Killin
The bunkhouse at Fearnan was called Culdees, and was a strange sort of place. Very well kitted out, comfy rooms etc, but lots of rules about where to leave shoes, what to do with this and that, it left me feeling a little uncomfortable about relaxing. There was lots of info about what the owners were tying to achieve - basically a self sufficient commune - and the bunkhouse was its only regular source of income to date, until other things were up and running properly. Fair play to them, though, and good luck too.

It was just a short hop to Pitlochry the next day - only 26 miles, in fact.This kind of distance has become barely a blip on my radar now, which I find amusing. Even a day of 50 miles is now just a day, whereas at the start of the trip it was something of a daunting prospect. With the longest day of the tour (84.1 miles, as it turned out) arriving in the morning, however, I was glad to take an early day and get the gears on the bike seen to - they had been slipping and not changing properly for a few days now, and I guessed that maybe the new cable put in at Hebden Bridge had stretched a bit as it bedded in. As it happens,there was a more sinister problem (a thingummy that attached to the doohickey had broken, so the whatdoyoucallit wasn't moving the doodad properly), but the blokes at the bike shop had me sorted out no problem by the end of the day. Peace of mind is a wonderful thing.

And so, to the Big Day. I had been both excited and nervous about this one, both for the distance and the terrain. 84 miles was going to be tough, and the Cairngorms is not the flattest part of Scotland by a long shot. Luckily, the weather was still holding - a large part of the nerves had been having to do the day in pouring rain or strong winds - and I was treated to a glorious day of sunshine and calm that left little for me to do but pedal and enjoy the scenery. After a bit of a steep climb out of Pitlochry, there was  a decent fast stretch, before the long ascent up Glenshee. I was determined not to give up and push, especially as the incline was never too great (until right at the end), merely continuous, and I was very pleased with myself to make it to the top. I had a long respite downhill after that, and then more  of the rolling hills that are not much bother any more.
The Caringorms - not as easy as they look!
It was later in the day, though, that I faced a series of tough climbs. I nailed the first three, nearly busting a lung in doing them, and it was just after the second one that I stopped for a photo, turning off the timer on my GPS while I found the camera, and forgot to start the timer when I set off again. I think I lost about 20 minutes before I realised, which was annoying to me, but didn't really change much in the big scheme of things.

The final climb was in a league of its own, however. A stupidly steep climb out of a village called Cock Bridge (some joke about not getting up it might fit in here...) had me pushing for 100m or so, then again a bit further on, and then just as I thought it was all over as I crested the rise, I could see a huge, long, steep climb that I knew would be too much. Earlier in the day I might have managed it, maybe, but with 70 miles behind be and some big climbs too, I was never going to do it. So push it was, but for as little of the hill as I could, and I was back on the bike for the last section at least.

That was the final big challenge of the day, and apart from more relentless pedaling along valleys, it was pretty straight forward to the Lazy Duck hostel at Nethy Bridge. A very pleasing 9 hours to ride 84 miles,and that included stoppage time. I think the riding itself only took about 6 and a bit hours. I'll have to check the GPS and remember to add 20 minutes...

I'm having a day off today because my next ride is 73 miles and two giant days in a row is just silly. I think this will be the last rest before the end though, as I have just 3 big days to go until I reach Dunnet Head, and then its just a short hop to John O'Groats before carrying on back to Thurso on the 4th day. So, all things being equal, I should make it to the finish line on Tuesday morning, 5 weeks and 1 day after leaving Land's End. Keep an eye on Facebook until then, as I'll have more chance of posting there than here before I finish. Hopefully I will have both photos and route maps by then as well.

As ever, thanks for the donations that have kept coming in - they really do help to spur me on and keep my spirits up. The current total is £1240, which is fantastic, but I should point out that this is the first time on the trip that my mileage (1400-ish) has exceeded the money I spy a challenge? Why, I think I do! :-)


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